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Sunday, March 27, 2011

My experience of the day Earth shook Japan–Guest Post by Amitava Biswas

I am sure you all know about the devastating earthquake and Tsunami that battered Japan earlier this month. Either you would have read about it in the newspapers or seen it on the TV or the internet. Or in some cases you would have faced it live. This was the strongest earthquake (8.9 Richter scale) to ever hit Japan and it has taken the lives of more than 10,000 people and has affected the lives of millions of people living in Japan. The entire country is still struggling to come to terms with the damage. My heart goes out to the entire nation and my deepest prayers for those who lost their lives in this natural calamity.

My childhood friend, Amitava Biswas, who lives and works in Tokyo saw and faced this natural disaster up live. He shared his experience of this tragic and eventful day with me. I was so moved by his experience that I asked him the permission to share it with you all, ‘my readers’. And I am very happy that he agreed. Coz, the entire country of Japan needs our prayers and financial support. Even if each one of us contribute a wee bit, it will go a long way in resurrecting the entire country.  Here is Amitava’s experience of that day in his own words…

My Experience of the day Earth Shook Japan
The day started as normal. Waking up at 6 AM, I was in office by 7:30 AM. In what would have been just a regular work day for me but for the events that unfolded that afternoon. I returned from a late lunch and was discussing a few things with my colleagues in my office at the 31st floor of one of the most modern buildings in Tokyo (Roppongi Hills Mori Tower) when it all started. Slowly, we could feel the building shaking and within 5-10 seconds the shaking became extremely violent unlike anything I have experienced before in Japan. Loud speakers in our office started blaring..."There has been an earthquake and if people are in the elevator they should exit at the nearest floor." My first reaction was panic simply because the shaking was so violent that it was difficult to stand without support. The best way to describe it would be the deck of a ship caught in a severe storm.

As my worst fear struck me that the building might collapse, I rushed for the exit, towards the stairs going down with the intention to evacuate.  My colleagues, panic stricken started to evacuate as well. Coming down the stairs  I prayed to the Lord briefly to save us all. Although most earthquakes  subside in 20 to 30 seconds, this one seemed to become stronger in intensity every second that we were coming down the stairs. People from the other floors had started evacuating the building through the stairs as well. Few people were colliding against each other as they were evacuating because the building continued shaking. Some of the Japanese who seemed to have been trained for this event were wearing helmets and carrying the survivor kit bag on their backs. After I had come down to about the 5th floor from the 31st floor, in what must have taken more than 5 minutes, I felt the shaking subside. I quickly hurried outside to see a huge crowd of other people who had evacuated as well. Catching a few conversations I realized that it was not only me but my Japanese colleagues as well who had never experienced such an earthquake in their lifetime.

Without doubt most of the people found the earthquake quite scary and fears were heightened when we received a strong aftershock of 7.0 within 30 minutes. Me and my colleagues decided it was best to leave the office campus and go to the proper evacuation location that we had been told to go to if such an event happened. The streets were crowded as people from other offices and buildings had evacuated as well and had come out to the streets. Suddenly we heard loudspeakers warning of Tsunami across a residential area where we were while heading towards the evacuation zone. I tried to call few of my other colleagues whom I had not seen but the mobile network was not routing my call. My data connection was fine and as I reloaded the bbc news webpage I saw that the government had issued the most serious warning of Tsunami ever. I also learnt that the quake we felt was 8.9 in magnitude and it was the largest that has ever struck Japan in recorded history. We finally made it to the evacuation zone, stayed there for around 40 minutes and then decided to make our way back to the office.   It was 5 pm already and lot of my colleagues had decided to go back home.

Some of them decided to get back  to the office to  get their jackets and coats before leaving for the day. Although I had taken my Jacket when I had evacuated, I decided I had to go back to my office because I had some office work outstanding which I had targeted to end that day.

The elevators having been shut down, I started climbing up the stairs and realized that never again should I take the luxury of having an elevator for granted. It was a tiring climb. Eventually I made it. I saw few of our staff present but the scene hardly looked normal as people were anxiously chatting with each other, trying to call friends and family, watching live coverage of the destruction that the tsunami was causing on the television screens. From our office we could see at a distance, a building in flames. As we watched the flames just blow up in what seemed to be an enormous explosion and later it engulfed the entire building. It was surreal for us to be watching this.

I opened my office email to finish my pending work, but found out that the work deadlines had been pushed out because of the earthquake!  Shortly, we received another strong aftershock. The loud speakers starting blaring again.."there has been an earthquake". I decided I had had enough for the day and decided to go back home climbing down the stairs again.

The main transportation, Tokyo metro, was shut down. Very few buses were plying and there were long queues of people to get on them. Long queues were seen in front of public telephone booths as well as people tried to reach their friends and family. The streets were full of people as everyone was  making their way back to their homes.

I also decided that I will walk my way back to my home after a few attempts to catch a taxi proved futile. The city was unlike what it used to be as huge crowds of people flooded the  streets all trying to get back to their homes albeit in an orderly manner. After a long and  arduous walk  I reached my home and saw my cupboard had fallen onto my study desk with my books  on the floor . My wall clock had fallen from the wall and it had stopped at around 2 minutes into the earthquake. After having cleaned my room  and after having a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant ,I  called my parents to let them know that I was fine and decided to go to bed.

Woke up the following day to see the devastation the earthquake and tsunami had brought to Japan. Best described by a Japanese ex-government official...as if someone had stabbed Japan and Japan was bleeding profusely. I was horror struck to see the devastation the tsunami had caused to the north-eastern coastal towns which were simply erased from the map. All that remained was destroyed houses, mangled remains of buildings, vehicles, ships , trains, lamp posts, traffic lights and other structures that were barely recognizable and were all crushed together in a debris of destruction and devastation unmatched by anything mankind could have done  himself. Entire population of several coastal towns were missing. The catastrophe this caused - 27,000 people missing or dead. People had lost their families their friends, their livelihoods, their houses, their belongings...their everything.

Putting myself in the position of the victims to get a feel of their misery and loss I realized that abyss is unfathomable. It renewed my faith in the divine, gave new meaning to everything in my life...my parents, my family, my friends, my health, my belongings, my workplace...everything seems to hold so much more meaning now, so much more to be valued, loved and cared for.

May the divine Lord rest the soul of the deceased in peace and give courage and strength to the surviving victims to overcome this catastrophe which has befallen them.

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