Monday, March 14, 2011

Surviving the big one

It just keeps getting worse.

Please excuse the far-from upbeat intro and coming personal pronoun, but I am tired. Tired from not sleeping much since Friday, the day of the earthquake. Tired of assessing which threat is real, which imaginary, which I can prepare for, which is beyond me, and all the while keeping an upbeat tone with my wife and daughters.

But tiredness is a luxury of the living. And my family and I are lucky. Our experiences were typical of those collected here, which were not those of the tsunami-ravaged north that dominate news coverage, but of the majority of the nation, shaken but spared.

Still, life here has gotten unpleasantly surreal. Friday already taught me that lampposts can bend, and the expression "on firm ground" is completely meaningless. Since starting this post I've already felt two aftershocks rattling the windows and wobbling my computer screen and I'm only into my fourth paragraph. So let me just share a little of my world in bullet point before I crawl into bed with my girls.

  • Things that are in short supply: batteries, candles, gasoline, instant noodles, bread, milk, reliable information.
  • Worry. As I type this, I learn from twitter that the rods have been exposed again at the Fukushima reactor, though, whether it is No. 1, No. 3, No. 5, I have lost track. I'm not sure whether this news is an immediate threat to me, seeing as Fukushima is 250km north of me, but it sure doesn't sound good. Oh, aftershock no. 3. 
  • We have the TV on permanently. Thankfully, its usual diet of celebrity gossip, celebrity cooking, and celebrity gossip cooking, is off. Instead, we have TEPCO press conferences, appearances by Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano and occasionally Prime Minister Naoto Kan, all in engineer boiler suits to tell us that, yes, there will be power outages, no, we don't know the severity of the Fukushima meltdown. But no radiation leaked.
  • Then the next day, as we readied for power outages between 3.20pm and 7pm scheduled for our area, with our four candles at the ready, we found that the lights stayed on. Wonderful. But does that mean we can't believe what the government is telling us? Oh dear.
I am still in a state of shock. I don't know if the trains will be running tomorrow, I don't know if people can get to work. Or get home again. I don't know if we will have power. I don't know if we should be taking iodine pills, staying indoors to avoid exposure to radiation, or staying outdoors to avoid the 7.0 aftershock that's expected in the coming days.

These are the known unknowns, if you like, but I prefer my rhetoric along the lines of we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But Japan is going to need help. I can think of no better way, right now, than donating to the Japanese Red Cross right here. Other ways to help here.

Don't pray, pay for Japan.

Patrick Sherriff
Outside Tokyo
APP Editor at Large

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