Three Related Disasters (Part 2), by Joe Refugee From Tokyo

Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011

Days Two and Three I slept well the night of 11-3-11, which was good, because I hadn't the two previous nights. A premonition, perhaps? Like the day after September 11th, there was an eerie feeling everywhere. The weather was nice, at least in Tokyo, but a cold front was coming in from the North, so the folks near the Tohoku coast were going to be suffering even more. It was obvious that the damage was off the charts, but the television downplayed the likely deaths, and a big question was whether the government had learned from its poor performance during the large earthquake in Kobe in 1995. We didn't know at this time, but the unfortunate answer was "no". In fairness, this disaster was much more difficult to handle, but the whole world will be asking about the inability to get resources to the Fukushima plants ASAP.

In the morning, many stores were closed. When they did open, they were packed with folks buying everything that might come in handy for hunkering down. This was the last chance to get a lot of things. By the end of Day Three, many things were gone, and announcements were made on television that supplies would have to be rerouted towards the most damaged areas. At this point, most convenience stores and supermarkets resembled photos from the worst days in the Soviet Union, at least for most necessities. The power was reliable, and trains and subways started to return to some semblance of normality by the evening. There was no panic but it was easy to see that gasoline and types of food were not going to be available within days.

The news was focused on the immediate damage. Besides the tsunami, there was cleaning up the fires and making major roads passable and fixing train tracks. All kinds of equipment had to be verified, so disaster preparedness teams in businesses and governments went to work. This seems to have gone well, and the volunteer groups did a good job, but it seems that most groups are a lot more effective in local areas, and the hard-to-get-to areas were too devastated to do much more than try to go through what was left of their own houses. My wife wondered about volunteering, but there was no way to get to the hard-hit areas, and one would just be an extra burden by getting there.

Up to this point, things still looked manageable. Soon, though, the topic of electricity came up. A lot of Tokyo's power comes from nuclear plants, and those were near the ocean. The assumption was still that everything was under control. Wishful thinking. On the street though, the feeling was mainly that the economic future had taken a huge hit, not that a nuclear crisis was at hand. That was to come soon enough. And refugees from the impacted areas were coming in to stay with relatives or hotels, and some passed through on their way to western Japan, where no damage had occurred. For me, though, it was time to get more cash out of the bank and think about whether our plans to leave Tokyo needed to be expedited. (To be continued.)

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