First Person Account: How The Earthquake Was Felt In Tokyo
Editorial Note: Dolores M. Bernal is one of the Co-Founders of the News Junkie Post. She has been living in Tokyo, Japan since September 2010.
TOKYO — It’s been less than 24 hours since the 8.9 magnitude earthquake shook the Eastern coast of Japan. At 2:46 pm, local Japan time on Friday I was on the 7th floor of an office building in the busy district of Shibuya when the movement began. Since then, devastation closer to the epicenter, plus aftershocks have kept most of us living in Tokyo, on high alert.
The movement in Tokyo was slow at the beginning. I didn’t think much of it at first, but this seemed different than the quakes we are used to having — this time it wasn’t stopping, and worse, it was getting stronger. I rushed out of the office I was in and looked around as colleagues held on to doors wondering why the quake wasn’t stopping.
The movement was back and forth and I couldn’t help but wonder which walls would collapse first. After about a minute into the quake, I rushed down the stairway. Many of the Japanese office tenants were making their way down as the shaking continued. Some walked very calmly, I was surprised. When we reached the first level and went outside, the sidewalks were packed with people who had come to a standstill due to the quake. They were all looking up, at the parade of buildings just moving back and forth. Most were calm, others were upset and holding on to one another.
I stood on the side of my building trying to reach relatives in the US to let them know I was OK, but the lines were already down. I used my iPhone to check the location of the quake via the USGS website and that’s when I first saw the big red square on the map, marking the epicenter — just off the coast of Sendai. If the earthquake was felt so strong in Tokyo, how did the people 235 miles north of me, in Sendai, felt it?
We had another massive aftershock that was so strong we didn’t know if that was it. People didn’t know if to run or stay put, again we all looked around where we were standing and it struck me that if the glass began to fall down from the buildings around us, we could get badly injured. I walked down the block to the intersection of Meiji Street and Miyamasuzaka hoping to not be too close to tall buildings, but it made no difference — Tokyo is an ocean of tall buildings, some taller than others, but it’s almost impossible to not be beneath their shadows.
The people at Shibuya Station were paralyzed, I knew right away that those trains weren’t going anywhere. In case of an earthquake, the trains and metro in Tokyo shut down, if I was going to get home, all I could do was start walking. As I made my 5-mile walk from Shibuya to Jiyugaoka, I kept refreshing the news pages and trying to keep informed. Large pockets of Japanese people huddled around each other along sidewalks, looking at TV news on their cell phones. Here is a video I shot of a man waiting to use a payphone to call home after the quake, he tells his story:
There was no visible damage in Tokyo itself that I could see. It was later when I found out that a parking structure had collapsed in Machida and that other minor damage had taken place in the city. The real disaster had occurred in the Sendai region.
When I got home, I saw the live TV images of the tsunami waves swallowing anything on their path. All Japanese TV channels were showing news of what had happened. There were tsunami advisories in Chinese, Portuguese, and English urging caution and for those living closer to the coast, to move to higher ground.
We experienced many tremors and aftershocks throughout the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Some of the aftershocks were 7.0 in magnitude at their epicenters. In Tokyo, these quakes felt less strong, but they were big enough to break dishes, mirrors, and cause other minor damage in my home.
My best estimate to a final death toll is between 1,000 to 3,000 dead, specially in the Sendai region. So far, the authorities have the toll at 200, with scores of people missing.
The shaking still continues as I write this first person account, we may have aftershocks well into April. So far, this hasn’t been the earthquake Tokyo has been expecting for the past 25 years, that other quake — the Tokai Earthquake — would devastate Shizuoka, Yokohama and Tokyo; it’s still 75 years overdue.