posted Dez 18, 2011
(trans. by MATSUI Akira, Nabunken)
When the Great Earthquake struck
11th March 2011, around 2:40 pm. I was working as usual at my desk in the Center for Archaeological Operations at Tohoku University in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture. Just as I thought it was about time for a tea break, the unfamiliar sound of the earthquake emergency alarm was suddenly emitted from my cell phone and those of my colleagues sitting around me. Before we were able to brace ourselves against the shaking, the earthquake struck.
At first, I thought it was an earthquake of just moderate magnitude, or perhaps a little bit bigger than usual, similar to others which had quite often gently shaken Sendai over the past few months. It was not. The indescribably intense horizontal shaking that followed made it clear to everyone that there was nothing normal about this one. Too scared to stay in our old brick office building, we instinctively rushed outside. After evacuating to a safer place away from falling broken glass and the potential collapse of buildings, I looked around with fresh fear and wonder. The seismic shaking was continuing. The road and grass plots on the campus were waving about wildly, while parked cars were bouncing as if on a trampoline. Later, I realized that the shaking, the likes of which I had never before experienced, continued for more than ten minutes, throughout which I was trembling both physically and mentally.
After the shaking appeared to have stopped, I went back inside the office building to see what had happened to the archaeological storage room. Fortunately, the damage was limited to some plastic containers storing relics and a few books that had fallen from the shelves. The damage was obviously light, in comparison with the huge scale of the earthquake. As Sendai had been repeatedly hit by quakes for quite some time, our old office building had been well prepared for a major quake. Our preparations had apparently worked.
Although I knew from my cell phone that an alarm for a major tsunami had been announced for areas along the Pacific coast, for some reason I failed to anticipate the power blackout. It was not until later that I learned the details of the enormous damage caused by the tsunami damage from seeing the images shown on television.
At around 6:00 pm, I started out on my return home. A light snow was falling and I made my way through a pitch-dark shopping arcade. People seemed calm while I was going home. As cell phones were not working due to the networks being overwhelmed by the demand for access, many people were patiently forming lines to wait their turn to use the pay telephones. In addition, I saw some broken plate glass that had fallen onto the road from windows of buildings, but there were no collapsed buildings. Once I got home, however, I found that all of my bookshelves had fallen over, and the floor was buried under books. After some hard work I found a battery-operated torch and other essential items from the flood of clutter, and secured a safe space in my house to shelter from the repeated aftershocks. My battery-operated radio continuously relayed the news about the tsunami and the numbers of the dead, missing, and wounded. The snow that had fallen after sunset and the temperature had dropped, but there was no gas nor electricity to alleviate the cold. Although I tried to sleep under a pile of blankets, I just tossed and turned. I was awakened time and again by intense aftershocks throughout the night, while thinking of the people I know who live in the coastal areas and my own fear.
The next day I walked around the city in search of food and information. Downtown, a shop owner, himself a disaster victim, was selling food and daily commodities on the street. People calmly queued up, without making any fuss. Most convenience stores were not able to keep to their usual 24-hour opening, and they were not able to put out many items on their shelves. Even these insufficient goods disappeared rapidly as the distribution network had come to a halt. Gasoline was no exception. Long lines of vehicles formed at gas stations across the city waiting for fuel, seriously restricting movement and transport by car.
About a week after the disaster, electricity and city water services were restored in the central area of the city, and after a week without good media access, people could at long last watch TV broadcasts and access the internet again. Like many other Sendai citizens, I came to understand the scale of the disaster in detail for the first time, and was appalled by the catastrophic damage.
After two weeks, distribution networks in the city had recovered to some degree, and very few citizens were wanting for daily necessities. As cell phone service also gradually recovered, I could talk with my friends living in the coastal areas of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. I heard from them how in the Pacific coastal areas the tsunami had totally destroyed lifelines including roads and killed many people. They told me that they were unable to recover their previous lives.
On April 13, almost one month after the disaster, I participated in rescue activities, organized in cooperation with the Tohoku University Museum, for the "Utatsu Gyoryukan" (the ichthyosaurus fossils exhibition hall), located in Minami-sanriku town, Miyagi prefecture. In Minami-sanriku the tsunami swept away almost all the buildings from the central area, leaving a sea of debris. When we arrived at the disaster site, many Self-Defense Force soldiers and volunteer firemen were searching for bodies of victims. Although the two-storied building of the "Utatsu Gyoryukan" remains on the ocean front, the tsunami inundated and completely destroyed the entire first floor. Furthermore, the tsunami reached the second floor as well, and burst into the exhibition room in which fossils and other archaeological relics had been displayed. Fortunately, however, the tsunami did not completely inundate the exhibition room, and these relics survived. We brought out all the archaeological materials exhibited at the rear of the room, and took them to Tohoku University. After that, we carefully washed them in water, and have since stored them carefully.
Meanwhile, the local headquarters of cultural property rescue teams had been established at the Sendai City Museum from April 19 at the request of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Although I have personally cooperated with the rescue of cultural properties since April, activities from the end of May, I have officially been working in this capacity. It was decided that the relics of the "Utatsu Gyoryukan" we rescued and have stored at Tohoku University should be returned to Minami-sanriku town by the end of July. I look forward to the day, hopefully in the near future, when the town recovers from the disaster, and the relics are again exhibited in their re-born hometown.
see also: Further reading