Friday, September 14, 2007

Seismophobia, じしん, Call it What You Want

If there was an Earth-riders club I'd probably be a member of it. It doesn't seem that long ago when I woke up on Jan 17th around 3:30AM to a 6.7 earthquake in Northridge, CA. It was so jolting that I actually had nausia sickness, coupled with my nerves of course. I remember that night well. The foundation of our house even cracked and put a small step in our family room. You really begin to appreciate the powerful forces of the earth and how helpless we really are. After all, there really is nothing we can do to prepare for an earthquake, just the aftermath. Unlike fires, floods, hurricanes, we never know when it will hit or where, and when it does, you have to make best of the ride. I think we all have Seismophobia to some degree. I think our brains experience shock when in one second your walls start shaking and it sounds like a freight train is in the house.

Well, this is where the story gets good. It seems even yet not so long ago when I was awakened on Jan 17th near Kobe, Japan to the sound of rattling wndows and a very very large freight train inside my 4th floor apartment (of 8 floors). Wait, you ask... wasn't that the exact same day as the Northridge earthquake? Indeed. 1994 and 1995. I immediately knew what it was before pounding began. I knew immediately that this was no Northridge, I was in for a ride of my life, one in which I was sure was going to end it. A 7.2 quake hit Awajishima, barely off the coast of the mainland about 8 miles away from me. I took an elbow to check on my new green companion when it hit. It was so incredibly forceful, there was nothing you could do. If you managed to get up on your knees you'd be bounced back like a flopping fish out of water. After a useless struggle, I conformed and stared at the cieling awaiting my death. This was one of the few times in my life where I was absolutely sure I was going to die. Being at the complete mercy of a greater power is very humbling. As the quake rolled on and on I became even more certain of it.

Somehow I did survive. But there were 6500 people who didn't and tens of thousands who were now homeless. I saw smokestacks fall from my bedroom window and factories blow up in huge flames. Needless to say our missionary work was halted somewhat and we began a relief effort with the US Army supplying food, water, clothes, and sanitary needs. But for some, our effort entailed digging for remains and finding those who didn't make it. The crematories were beyond their capacity so the bodies were temporarily laid in the cultural hall at the church. One of my English students lost all three of their children and one of my companion friends shared his experiences of atempting to revive a few. These are hard memories to shake. Nonetheless there is something to learn by it.

Appreciating life is a whole lot easier when you know your days are numbered, whether by months or seconds. And as for earthquakes, well, here's the honest truth about it. If we ever get a quake strong enough to do such damage (and we probably will), you certianly won't be running down the halls to save your children. Think floppy fish. So you have to just ride it out and if possible, get away from glass or large heavy things that could fall on you or your kids. But they come so unexpectedly that there is no real defense. So ride it out, and even try to enjoy it. But to be honest, every shaker I get here takes me back to that day like I was flashbacking to Nam. However, I continue to survive. All I can say is ... bring it on.

(these photos are my own. wish I had my good camera for this, but I had to be descreet. Home owners were usually around wondering what to do so taking pictures of it felt really out of place. And don't ask how that mini truck got on top of the other one. This whole city block burned down.)


rob*sheena*jonah*lucy said...


Now I'm for sure going to be having should post a rating on your blog:
"for mature adults only"

I honestly can't believe those pics!

rockkinrobbins said...

Wow! I have Chills! That is incredible! What memories, good and bad.

cara lou said...

I'm glad you survived both of those earthquakes. They certainly are scary. The two that we had up here last month actually really made me mad just because they're so unpredictable and powerful and can't do anything about it!

jackman6 said...

I'm with you Sheena...nightmares!

Heather said...

I thought I was scared before, now i am terrified. Amazing pictures. What an experience.

Amy said...

I really liked reading this post. Thanks for sharing. I can't believe those pictures! You've definitely given me a new earthquake perspective!

Melissa said...

I can't even imagine what it must feel like to go through such an experience. I live on the east coast - and I hear our day will come, but the most shake I've ever felt in our home was caused by military jets. Thanks for the story - and your missionary work.