March 16, 2011 - Goshogawara, Japan


It’s now been several days since the earthquake, and I’m sitting at my desk just correcting papers and reading the news online as no students are in school today.  A three hour blackout was scheduled, but it ended up being canceled as people in this area were conserving energy so well.  Right now, the inconveniences here are certainly not dwelled upon as we’re all worried about those a few hours away from us.


The earthquake occurred Friday afternoon right after the start of 6th period at my school.  I had finished my classes for the day, so I was in the teacher’s office.  I was actually the first person to notice the earthquake, and I quickly mentioned it to the rest of my office.  We all thought it was just a normal tremor at first, but when it continued for several minutes continuously getting stronger, we knew it was serious.  Earthquakes are rarely centered where I live in Japan (the west side), so we assumed that whatever had happened to the east would have been strong enough to cause some damage.  After getting under desks for protection, students were sent home.  As the power was shut off during the earthquake, trains stopped running, so my students who live further away were left without trains, waiting for their parents.  Cell phones were the only means of getting information, and most people turned on the TV function of their phone to get the news.  We learned that the earthquake hit Miyagi prefecture and was a Shindo 7.  (The highest rating on the Japanese scale that measures damage.)  People were immediately worried as most have family or friends in Miyagi.  Teachers left school soon after the students hoping to get home before traffic worsened.  With no traffic lights working, everyone wanted to avoid driving during rush hour.


I made sure to contact my family immediately after the earthquake to let them know that I was fine, but I wasn’t able to make calls.  With no heat, electricity, or means of communication, I got into my bed to stay warm, and read a book via flashlight.  Luckily, someone was able to get a call through to me and let me know that he and a friend were at my Japanese friend’s house as they had portable kerosene heaters.  I rounded up other foreigners in the area and we all went there.  We had heard of the damage from the earthquake and tsunami, but that night we could do nothing other than gather by candlelight with good friends.  At that moment, and throughout this whole time, I’ve been extremely thankful that I have both wonderful Japanese friends who are concerned about me, and a great community of foreign friends.  That night, we stopped at one of many convenience stores staying open through the night thanks to dedicated workers using flashlights and calculators to help people get last minute food or other items.  It was eerie to drive through town with no street lamps or traffic lights. 


I was awoken just after 8 the next morning to the knock of a Japanese friend who wanted to make sure that I was ok.  She made another trip an hour later bringing a phone charger that I could use in my car (my battery had died), a newspaper, and bacon.  I was once again so touched to realize that many of my Japanese friends were treating me like family.  After checking on foreign friends in the area the next morning and afternoon, I finally was able to go to a place that had gotten back power.  I opened my email to see 100 messages from concerned friends and family members.  It was really nice to see how worried everyone was about me.  Even though most in my prefecture had gotten power back by Saturday night, a bunch of friends and I still got together and some even slept at my place.  In times like these, it’s just better to be around people. 


Since this weekend, people have tried to regain some sense of normalcy.  Yesterday, we even had our usual class schedule.  There are, however, some marked differences.  As highways are only being used for emergency vehicles, the supermarkets aren’t being refilled.  It seems that vegetables are still available to a lesser degree, but items like milk, bread, and rice are gone.  Shelves once full are beginning to look incredibly bare.  Gas is also proving difficult to come by.  I still have 3/4 of a tank left, but that’s only because I’m staying close to home.  The few gas stations that have gas are only allowing people to get 1,000 yen (about $11) worth, and lines are three hours long.  Electricity is also being conserved.  We have another blackout scheduled for Friday morning, and until then, we’re only using some of the overhead lights. 


Everyone here, however, is aware that we’re facing nothing compared to what is going on in Miyagi prefecture.  Many of my friends and students have family and friends in the area.  While most people have been accounted for, some have not, and unfortunately, some of those friends or family members lived near the water.  With something this big happening so close, it’s hard not to be affected.  In the office, we seem to constantly be following the news and sharing it with others.  We also keep wondering if we’re feeling an aftershock, or if we’re just imagining it.  After a while, the earth seems to constantly feel like it’s moving. 


The Japanese really are incredible at dealing with earthquakes.  In a matter of days, people went from their normal lives to coping with one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world, a tsunami, and a nuclear crisis.  The preparedness of people here is unbelievable.  Where panic would ensue in most places, here there’s a sense of calm – certainly a nervous calm that’s not taking away from the fact that people are ready to act at a moment’s notice if need be – but still a calm.


I know that many of you are worried about me, but I really am fine here.  The earthquake, while quite strong, did not damage anything in my town, nor did the aftershocks.  Honestly, the moments I felt most scared were the two times I received a text message accompanied by a siren-like sound warning of an impending earthquake.  As I hadn’t been warned before the major one we had Friday, I could do nothing but wait nervously for what I thought was to be a very large aftershock.  It turns out, it barely registered where I am, but the wait was nerve-wracking.  I’m also fairly far from the Fukushima plant, and according to all the experts, unless the situation takes a sharp turn for the worse, only those in the immediate area are being affected.  Even if the situation becomes as terrible as Chernobyl, which all experts say is highly unlikely, I’m still far enough away not to suffer any health risks.  All of us, however, are constantly following the news, both Japanese and foreign (BBC, New York Times, etc.), and are taking all the risks seriously.  My cousin in Hong Kong has offered to host me, so I’m ready to jump on a plane to head there if need be.    


Thank you for all your support, thoughts, and prayers.  I don’t usually implore people to give to charities, but please consider donating at the Japanese Red Cross, US Red Cross, or any other group helping the effort in Japan. 



March 16, 2011
Thanks for the detailed account. I am also exceedingly impressed with the Japanese culture's ability to calmly deal with a crisis. We could learn a lot from them over here in the US... Unfortunately, too often our sense of precaution becomes amplified, to our detriment, by our focus on fear, exaggeration, and the sensational. Anyways, I don't mean to ramble. I can't wait to see you!
Nancy Harris:
March 16, 2011
Hi Katie, It was great to read your first hand account of what is going on there. I have been watching every news report I can about the earthquake and aftermath. I have new found respect for the Japanese people seeing how they have handled this disaster. I am also impressed by you! You are incredible. Your blog entry is so well written and interesting. Enjoy the rest of your time there but I can't wait until you are safely home! Love from the Harris family
susie richardson:
March 16, 2011
Katie, so appreciate this first-hand account of the situation over there. You've provided significant insight to us regarding some of the subtler, more nuanced ways the earthquake has affected life in Japan. Thanks for the peek into the giving, thoughtful heart of the Japan you've come to know in the wake of this catastrophe.
Lynne Crawford:
March 16, 2011
Katie, Thanks so much for the update we have been worried about you here on Eastway. It is so interesting to read your account of what happened on the day of the earthquake...The Japanese people sound amazing. Stay safe.
Kevin Connell:
March 16, 2011
Katie - So glad you're safe and thank you for the firsthand details. Sarah Anne is a great host and I know we would all feel a lot better knowing you are in Hong Kong. Don't wait too long to get out. Be safe. Kevin
Marilyn Kelleher:
March 16, 2011
Thank you for such a well explained report of what is going on in the day to day life in your town. Stay safe, we are thinking of you all the time. So glad you are being well cared for by all your new found and old found friends...take care of yourself!
Ruth Cosgrove:
March 16, 2011
Dear Katie,
Michael and I so appreciated your blog--it has given us a clear sense of your goings on. We are and have been concerned, as is A. Carolyn and others who have called/contacted us about you.
Thank with much love...
Sue Heidbreder:
March 16, 2011
Hi Katie,
Thanks for the update. So relieved to hear you are doing okay. It is nice to know you are surrounded by such a caring community. The Japanese people seem so resilient. You are all in our thoughts and prayers. Looking forward to seeing you back on Eastway this summer.
Stay Safe! Sue Heidbreder
Jim Mulroy:
March 16, 2011
Katie, Chris and I have been thinking of you alot and of the devistation of Japan. Glad you are ok but worried about the nuclear reactor radiation threat. You are so lucky to have a large support network there - espeically appreciated, I'm sure, during times of crisis like this. You have made a good suggestion in your blog to donate to Japanese support causes. Love, Jim
Judith Dougherty:
March 16, 2011
Katie!!!! Thank you for putting our fears to rest... if only somewhat. We here in the USA have and still are watching with horror at what is taking place over there. Your descriptions of the way the Japanese people have rallied to face this devastation is inspiring, we are able to get a small sense of it through the news here at home. I am so relieved that you are surrounded by friends, I know the benefits of having them in a time of need. I think I will sleep better tonight knowing that your parents can rest a little more easily, well maybe less fitfully at least! The best birthday gift your dad can get is probably to hear your voice, I hope that happens soon! Thinking of you and wishing you all the best, sweetie! Judy Dougherty
Paula Perry:
March 16, 2011
Wow, Katie, as always you're writing captures the moment so well. We are all thinking of you and the Japanese people through this horrific event. We can't wait until August!
Akiya mc Bok:
March 16, 2011
The rainfall down south also helped us not have a blackout by allowing the hydroelectric plants to run at a higher production level than normal. So basically, even if it sucks to have snow the size of dimes pelting us in the face, it means we get electricity.
Jim O'Leary:
March 16, 2011
Katie, we were so glad to hear that you are out of harms way. The stories, videos and photos are horrific. Thanks for sharing your insight on the situation - well done. The Japanese people are certainly inspiring to watch as they try to pull together the torn pieces of their lives. You are certainly getting incredible life lessons.We'll keep you in our thoughts. Stay safe.

The O'Learys
March 16, 2011
Thanks for letting us know you're ok, Katie!! Definitely get to Sarah Anne in Hong Kong if you need to. Thinking of your friends and their families, and you, of course. Stay safe!

Julia Caminiti:
March 17, 2011
As everyone has already mentioned, I am so glad both you and your friends are safe. Your mom mentioned that you may be traveling and if so, take care! Julia
Lori and Glenn Miller:
March 17, 2011
Katie, we are so relieved that you're ok! You have been in our thoughts and prayers since the earthquake happened. You are an inspiration to us and we're sure to all he people who know you over there! Your writing is captivating - thank you so much for giving us an "inside" account of what's happening. Stay well and safe! Love, the Millers
Steve Mulroy:
March 17, 2011
Wow, Katie! What an account of your life at the moment. Like all the previous comments, I've been watching the news and worrying about you, esp. with the risks of radiation from the nuclear power plant. Reminds me of Three Mile Island. I lived, w/ Nana et al, only about 10 miles from the plant at the time. The news was very frightening - not really knowing what was going to happen next. Stay safe & keep us posted. Love Steve
David and Amy Palmerino:
March 17, 2011
Hi Katie, we're so thankful for the update. I facebooked Maura and heard from your mom as well, so we feel a bit better about your safety. I've heard incredibly beautiful stories about the Japanese and how helpful they are to each other so I'm glad you are experiencing that. We can't wait to see you.
Love David and Amy
Debra Kwiatek:
March 17, 2011
Hi Katie,
We spoke with Joseph who checked your Facebook status . He was able to give us some information as to how you were doing. You have been in our thoughts and prayers along with all the people of Japan. It is a strange feeling to hear about all the events in Japan and just watch and listen. Thank for such a vivid account of events. Stay safe and know we are with you in spirit!

God Bless! The Kwiatek Household.
Stacy Ho:
March 17, 2011
Hi Katie, thanks for your update. We're so glad you're ok. We hope for the best for your friends in Japan and their relatives who were most affected. Stay safe!
Stacy, Carlene, Natalie, and Ryan
pascale et Yves Bourgoin:
March 17, 2011
Chère Katie,
Nous sommes si contents d'avoir de tes nouvelles ! Nous pensons bien à toi et suivons de près toute les nouvelles en provenance du Japon. Nous admirons ton calme mais cela ne nous étonne pas !
Sois bien prudente.
carol guarino:
March 17, 2011
Hi Katie, I'm so glad to know your doing ok. What a sad situation for all of Japan. It is good to know that your a good distance away from the nuclear plant. That is wicked scary. It was so interesting to read about how life is going on and how supportive everyone is around you. Just wanted you to know that we are thinking about you and praying that you"ll remain safe. Love , The Guarinos.
Nancy Ortiz:
March 18, 2011
Hi Katie, You were the first person I thought of after hearing the devastating news. I was so relieved when your Mom told me you were safe! This has certainly been the experience of a lifetime - one you will never forget. The Ortiz family wishes you the very best and is so incredibly happy that you are safe.
March 18, 2011
Thank you for all the wonderful comments, everyone. I'm overwhelmed at the amount of support I have. I'm so thankful to have so many caring family members and friends in the US and around the world.
Susan Chandler:
March 18, 2011
Hi Katie -We heard early on that you were okay, but it was nice to hear what you have to say about your personal experience and the Japanese people. Thank you for sharing and we are glad to hear that you are doing well. Take care and we will keep you all in our prayers.
Kathy and Jack Barry:
March 18, 2011
Katie - You are amazing!! Your update has calmed my concerns as I just couldn't imagine you wanting to stay on through this overwhelming event! You all have been in our thoughts and prayers and will continue to be until you come home safely. Lots of Love to you -
Linda Snow Dockser:
March 18, 2011
Hi Katie,

We have been thinking of you and were so glad to hear that you are ok. Mother Nature certainly trumps human plans. We are so glad that your immediate community was not hard hit. Our hearts are with you and the Japanese people. Watching the Japanese order, caring, patience, and consideration at this difficult time is truly an inspiration. We have much to learn from your new community. Your friends and community sound wonderful. Thanks to your mom for sharing your blog with us when we called to check in on you. Please keep us posted on things we can do to help!

With Best Regards, Linda, Jennie and the rest of the Docksers
Margie Straub:
March 20, 2011
Katie, we are so happy to know that you are OK. It is obvious that you are in a caring community surrounded by people looking out for you and each other and for that we are so grateful. You and everyone affected by this tragedy are in our prayers.
Is it a silly question to ask if there is anything we can do from here?
Love from all the Currans!!
Dianne Ledingham:
March 22, 2011
Been thinking of you since this happened. Glad you are well and maintaining your spirits. Good luck to you and your community as you work your way thru the next several months...we will continue to think of you and the entire community of Japan. Incredible to have all these things happen at once.
All the best...
March 22, 2011
THANK YOU for this great journal entry (and for Google, which is where I found it!). I live in Maine, and Aomori is our sister state. Even so, it's been really hard to get info about other parts of the prefecture aside from Hachinohe. If you can provide any news about them we'd really appreciate it. We have lots of student exchanges with Aomori, the biggest one in Tsugaru City, and I went to Onoe (near Hirosaki) in '01 with our town's. I added my email address to your update notices, so feel free to contact me thru that. Arigatou!
April 6, 2011
Hi Kate,
Thanks so much for letting us know what is happening..I feel good and I feel a renewed faith in humanity. I am so glad you are safe and being well cared for, I might share your blog with some of my students who are incarcerated at juvenile justice. Luv your aunt connie
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