Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Earthquake that Rocked Japan

First, let me start by saying that we are all fine and continue to be safe.  On Friday, March 11 at 2:46pm here in Japan, we were rocked by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan near Sendai.  The earthquake hit about 240 miles northeast of Yokota Air Base and we felt it at about a 5.0 here on base.  Just to give you an idea of the distance from the epicenter of the earthquake to Yokota Air Base, it's similar to the distance from Atlanta, GA to my hometown of Rock Hill, SC.  For me, that really puts things in perspective. 

Matthew had been napping and had woken up a little before the earthquake hit and we were playing in his room when we started to feel the house shake.  Since we're on the 8th floor, we feel much more of the earthquakes than most do who are lower to the ground.  It's not uncommon to feel a little shake here and there, or to see the light fixture over the table sway back and forth.  The difference on Friday was that (a) the shaking was much more severe causing things to fall off shelves, cabinet doors were opening and all the doors and windows were rattling, and (b) this earthquake lasted several minutes as opposed to the others we have felt that only last a few seconds or less than a minute.  At first, I thought it would pass, but just when I thought it was surely going to stop the shaking got heavier and I could really feel the building move back and forth.  I grabbed Matthew and ran into the living room to asses the situation.  I called a good friend upstairs to see how she was doing and we were talking through what to do when all of a sudden another friend came banging on the door to check on me knowing I was home alone with Matthew and pregnant.  She ran up 4 flights of stairs carrying her 18 month old son who had been sound asleep in his crib napping!  I'm truly blessed with wonderful friends here!  Once things calmed down, we all started to check on the other ladies around base.  I can't tell you enough how blessed we are with such a tight knit community here.  Several of us are without our husbands right now, who are away for work, and with small children it makes it even more difficult to endure such an amazing disaster.  Thankfully, we didn't have any major damage at our house (just a cracked vase), all military personelle within Japan are safe, and there hasn't been any reported damage on any of the military bases.  We were so blessed.  I had spoken to Ryan on the phone about 30 minutes prior to when the earthquake hit.  His plane took off before the earthquake, so his crew didn't know of the disaster until they landed in their final destination.  It's been tough on everyone to be so far apart.

As word hit the news, the devastation of what had actually occured started to sink in for us all here on base.  We rallied together for support and watched as the devastating tsunami hit the coast of Japan.  We are further south and too far inland to be affected by the tsunami warnings, but it's horrible to think of a wave rumbling towards the coast at over 500 mph.  There were 11 commercial airlines that were diverted from the Tokyo airports to Yokota Air Base.  All of them, with the exception of two, were able to take off later that night.  The two remaining airplanes brought about 500 people to the base without a place to stay.  The Red Cross set up a shelter in one of the ballrooms and provided food, blankets, and pillows.  Several of our friends went to volunteer their time - some during the 2am shift - so people are definitley coming together as a community to help.  The commercial planes have since departed from Yokota.  On Saturday night, we had several planes land here with international and stateside military personnel, all who have arrived and will stay on base to help with the relief efforts. 

Since the earthquake on Friday afternoon, they have reported over 130 aftershocks, many of which we have felt here on base (or at least I feel them on the 8th floor of our apartment tower).  Tokyo is approximately 30 miles from the base and is still in fairly bad shape. Their two airports are slowly coming back after closing, the mass transit that was at a complete standstill on Friday is slowly coming back as well. They are inspecting all the rail lines by hand and are walking all the miles of lines to ensure no damage has been done, and that takes a great amount of time.  One of their biggest concerns is that with the closing of the transit systems, there are shortages of supplies (food, water, etc) within the local communities.  Many of the stores have empty shelves.  So far here on base, we are okay on food and water supplies, but we may see a delay in the following weeks.  There will also be planned power outages that could affect us on base too, so we are all preparing for that and are doing our best to conserve.

This morning the news was regarding the damaged nuclear power plants. Here is what was posted on the Yokota Air Base Facebook page as an update, "Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Agency reported yesterday atomic material had seeped out of a reactor at the Daiichi power plant. Authorities also said a cooling system failed in three reactors at the Fukushima Daini plant. The plants are at the Fukushima power facility, 143 miles north of Yokota.  At this time, there is no danger to Yokota. The base will continue to monitor the situation to ensure our safety."  That was followed up with this a few hours later, "Air monitoring results taken by our medical group indicate no radiation levels at Yokota. Base officials will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety of our residents."  I feel confident that if we are in any danger of radiation that they will evacuate us accordingly, so please don't worry. 

The images of the devastation here in Japan are staggering.  It's completely surreal to be this close to such a horrific disaster.  Please keep Japan and the people who have been affected by this in your prayers.  The recovery efforts are going to take months, if not years, to recover and rebuild the farmland and communities that were destroyed.  From what I understand, we can expect that the aftershocks will continue for months.  They are happening regularly and they are also happening at extremely strong magnitudes.  Most are in the 5-7 range, which could continue to contribute to the damage.  I constantly feel like we're in motion and have spent the last two nights being woken up by several aftershocks at all hours, which literally shook me awake.

For updates on the earthquakes and aftershocks that continue to rock the world, this site is the most accurate to follow -- http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/quakes_all.html

For information regarding the military here at Yokota Air Base, you can visit http://www.yokota.af.mil/ for the most updated information. 

Even though Ryan is away, I am finding peace in the Lord.  He is so much greater than all of this devastation.  He is always with me and He brings a comfort that cannot be found anywhere else.  Thank you for your encouragement and especially for your prayers.  We truly do feel your prayers, but Japan is not out of the woods yet so please continue to pray during the coming days, weeks and months.  May the Lord bring peace to this country and the Japanese people soon.

I want to leave you with a smile in the midst of this tragedy, so here is a recent photo of Matthew that just brightens my day.  It was taken at the commissary after Ryan bought ice cream to share with Matthew while we did our grocery shopping.  Obviously, he loves chocolate!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Days Gone by....October, November and December 2010

I'm a horrible blogger.  Will I ever get better at this?  Who knows.  But, for now, I'm going to do my best to quickly recap October - December 2010 so I can get back on track.  We just returned from a fabulous vacation to Guam and I want to include details from our trip, but I feel like I need to update you on the end of 2010 and then we'll move on to present day 2011!  Thanks for being patient with me!

October brought lots of excitement to our family here in Japan.  Ryan and I found out that we would be expecting Baby #2 on June 6, 2011!  Matthew will finally be a big brother!  To make things even more exciting, the ultrasound showed that we will be having a GIRL!  Hooray!  I had morning sickness through week 16 of this pregnancy, which was challenging to deal with as I tried my best to keep up with Matthew!  We survived and the second trimester has restored my energy and also brought on lots of nesting as we prepare a nursery for the new baby.  I feel so blessed and thankful that the Lord is growing our family!

November in Japan is beautiful.  The leaves change to the most beautiful bright orange, yellow and red colors and the weather was so pleasant.  I can already tell that fall will be one of my favorite times of year here.  We celebrated Thanksgiving with some of our close friends here at Yokota, and had 4 families all together at our house (8 adults and 4 kids) for turkey and all the yummy sides.  Ryan's squadron, the 36th Airlift Squadron, held an exercise in November that had seven C-130's flying in formation.  It's the first time they have done this in many years, so it was exciting to be able to watch them take off.  Here's the video (sorry my camera work isn't great).  Ryan wasn't flying that day, so Matthew and I went up to the squadron, which is right on the flightline, to watch with him.  It was very neat!

video

December was an eventful month (as usual).  Not only were we excited to celebrate our first Christmas at Yokota, we were also celebrating Matthew's 2nd birthday.  He loves Sesame Street, so I put together a Sesame Street themed party for him and his friends.  The kids had a great time and I thoroughly enjoyed planning the party!  We had Sesame Street themed music, foods and decorations -- my favorite being the Elmo cupcakes.  We also had a small bouncy castle for the kids to jump around in and some other tunnels and toys to keep them entertained (it was too cold to play outside).  Here are a few pictures of our celebration. 


The Christmas season was tough since it was the first time we were spending it without family, but we still felt so blessed.  This was the first year that Matthew seemed to get excited over gifts and all the presents under the tree.  His grandparents sure did spoil him this year (but I suppose that is what grandparents do best!)!  We managed to set up the camera to get at least one family picture in front of the tree.  It didn't come out very well, but here it is...

Matthew continues to grow and amaze us daily.  He's such a happy little boy and we are proud parents!  We are hopeful that 2011 will bring us another healthy baby and a year full of excitement here in Japan!