Saturday, April 2, 2011

The day the earth shook

My friend, Nicole S Gonzales-McIntosh, has inspired me to share my story about our evacuation from Japan. Perhaps through writing, I will be able to find peace and harmony. (Ok, stop laughing... I tried to sound philosophical.)

Yes, I did accept and sign up for the voluntary evacuation from Japan. It was not for the so called vacation that the news has portrayed myself and many of my friends of partaking. I could go on to define the word vacation, but we all know what it means. So, let me tell you how my new adventure began.

It was Friday, March 11, 2011. Mike had early GQ (general quarters) this day so I elected to sleep in to my normal wake-up time of 0400 rather than get up earlier and leave with him at 0430. My life doesn't revolve around myself anymore, but around the life of my precocious five year-old. For his sake, I wanted him to sleep until 0545. I was able to get him to my friends house a little after 0600 to enjoy what would be his last day at his Japanese school. My friend, Nicole, and her husband were in Okinawa. Her two little ones were already at our friend's house and Michael was so excited to see his favorite girl. I was able to coax him back to sleep and crept out the door to begin my day.

It was Friday and I was thankful for the weekend. We would be having my friend's two little ones for the night and I was planning out everything in my head to ensure a successful sleepover. Work was a normal day and as soon my teaching day was over, I was heading home. A fellow teacher stopped me to ask about a ride for another teacher who lives in our neighborhood. The other teacher needed to get home quicker than the work-to-home bus. I waited a few minutes trying to find her, but little did I know, she had found another Negishi-ite for the ride home. I left the building at 1440 to begin what was to be a quick ride home with a stop at my favorite fruit and vegetable stand.

As I entered the expressway, nicknamed the Yoko-Yoko, I noticed there was not a lot of traffic on the opposite side and the emergency signs were showing symbols I didn't recognize. I figured there was an accident somewhere along the way on the other side and thought nothing of it until I got off at my exit. There were police everywhere preventing vehicles from entering the expressway. This made me a bit nervous so I tried calling Mike. I kept getting weird sounds, so I tried calling a few friends to no avail. This is when I realized that something was wrong and I couldn't make any phone calls. I remained calm and headed home. Perhaps it was all a coincidence and my cell phone was acting up.

Just as I was about to get onto the main roads, I got a frantic phone call from Mike. He kept asking me if I was ok and I was telling him I was fine. He told me that we had a big earthquake and to be careful. We determined that I could not make phone calls so he would keep calling me from the Boat until I got home. I hadn't felt a thing, or at least recognized the feeling of the first quake. Once I was on the main roads, I was stopped at a light and that is when the first aftershock hit. I was under the overpass and my van began shaking like an ice cube in a martini shaker. It was rather surreal at this point and when I saw the local Japanese office workers evacuating their buildings and looking up, I then knew something was wrong. This was no normal earthquake.

I could see the light posts on the overpass swaying back and forth. I began crying and praying for my safety. Mike called me back and calmed me down. At that moment, I realized that Michael was on a bus on his way home. I asked Mike to call the school and make sure he was ok. I remember telling Mike that I would be fine once I had Michael in my arms. The aftershock subsided and Mike was able to keep me focused long enough to get home. We were unable to reach Michael's school. My heart and nerves went into panic mode, but my mind was on overdrive and my focus was to get home. Mike was able to reach our housekeeper who ensured Mike that all was well, just a few broken or damaged items and the dogs were fine. Mike let her know that I was on my way and would be there shortly.

It is all pretty much a blur at this point because all I can remember is the waiting for Michael's bus. This was the longest period of time in my life. I was able to email from my cell phone but that was it. I remember grabbing Nicole's littlest one from our friend, Coralys, and waiting for Michael and his girl to get off the bus. The bus was now an hour late. Still no communication with the schools by phone or email. Inside I am panicking, but on the outside I was calm. I took the little one to my house and to check on my housekeeper. She wanted to remain at the house and offered to keep the little one with her while I went back and continued my wait. I remember returning and picking up my friend, Julia, on the way back to the bus stop. She was a huge calming factor and being together and chatting helped. We had been promising to set aside some time to catch up and hang out but this is not the way we wanted it. We decided to drive up to the security office to see if they knew of anything. Before that, we drove to another parent's house to see if she knew anything and she was in the same boat we were. We made it to our main base and I remember grabbing a Coke and taking some Excedrin. When I headed into the office, Julia was waiting patiently for some information. There was another parent in there concerned about his daughter who was on the home-to-work bus. We were told it was stuck in traffic and people were getting off and just walking the rest of the way. Security was able to have the Japanese translator contact the Japanese police to inquire about our children. They could not tell us where the bus was, only that there were no accidents or injuries at this time. The Japanese police were stationed all around like a grid with eyes and cameras everywhere. We would be contacted if something came up or more information was known. So, we drove back to our spot and decided to wait by the front gate instead.

Julia and I sat there for a long time, maybe almost two hours just talking and chatting. My father and Mike were able to call me and check in for status updates about Michael. The bus finally came into view but from the opposite path they normally take. I remember jumping out of the car and running to the bus, as fast as I could. The children were all happy and talking about what a great time they had on the bus. They were able to eat and drink and basically had a little party. The bus stopped in front of the house of my fellow teacher seeking the ride home from school. Julia and I inquired about the rest of the students still on the bus and they did need another restroom break of possible. Julia ran the children and the bus assistant to my friend's house. I took the three happy campers, Michael, his girl and Julia's son, to my van. They were all very animated and talking about what a great time they had on the bus ride home. Since they had to take the main roads home, the bus driver was able to make several stops at the convenience stores for snacks and restroom breaks.

We drove to Coraly's house because she had Julia and Nicole's youngest children and we unloaded and reloaded the kiddos. During this, my father called to confirm my email that I had Michael and I could hear him crying and unable to speak. He told me he would call me back. This made me start to cry again but I had to stay strong for my son. We dropped off Julia and her boys and then headed to our house. I was able to call Mike on his cell phone from our house phone and keep in touch with him that way. He had Julia's husband with him and they were slowly making their way home. All I can remember was talking with my parents and patiently awaiting Mike's arrival. Once Mike was in the door, he got on the phone with my parents and assured them of our safety. I don't remember much after this but we all snuggled in the same bed that night. For now, my family was safe and sound...

This link will show you the play by play of the earthquakes. Japan Quake Map

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