Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake experience

You know, there is not a lot for Lorraine and me to do. We tried picking up the books and games that had fallen out of shelves but what with the aftershocks, it seemed stupid to be right under the same shelves and putting things back when for all we knew they would all fall out again. Cooking too has had minimum success though I have gas and electricity and water. Dried out vegetables at the bottom of the refrigerator? Will those turn into a meal? And every time I go into the kitchen the house starts shaking again so I have to flip off the gas pretty quickly. Dinner last night was fried rice.

A lot of you have asked where I am in relation to the epicenter. Well, there has been such a series of quakes and the epicenters are pretty spread out. The first and largest shake was about 200 miles to the north and east of us. That was the 8.8 magnitude one and I'm supposing that was the one that did the most of the damage to the house. And the reason I'm not sure about that is because Lorraine and I weren't at home when the first quake struck!

Lorraine had hoped to go home on Friday afternoon around 3:00. Remember how in the morning she went walking around by herself? Well, she came back and asked about all the stone store houses that she'd seen along side of the farmhouses. Oh, those! Yes, it just so happens that we live in an area of Japan where stone is excavated for the use of building walls and traditional storehouses and some of the fancier pieces of architecture. It is known as Oya stone. Well, if you are interested in Oya stone, why don't we go visit the caverns where the stone is cut out an carried away. It is an unknown tourist spot that is slightly interesting...

You do see where this is leading.

After lunch (in a renovated stone storehouse) I took Lorraine over to the Oya town and explained along the way about how the stonemasons have for years carved out stone from the mountains and from under the countryside until the area is catacombed with huge areas under the earth. In years past some of the older quarries have even collapsed with farmhouses disappearing into the earth... But that was a long time ago. The quarry that I wanted to show Lorraine is one maintained by the city and it has a little tourist course that leads down into the depths. A small museum and gift shop stands outside the entrance and the area is surrounded by interestingly shaped mountains that have been carved away.

Lorraine and I parked and took a couple pictures of the cut out hills surrounding the parking lot. "Now isn't that an interesting formation. Just cut away a shelf there didn't they?"

We went into the museum and then started down the well lit stairway that leads into the bowels of the earth. The walls on each side of the stairway are interestingly wedge-cut and I reminded myself to get a picture of them on the way back out.

The first tunnel stairway opened out onto a huge empty area and there were signs on the walls saying that during the war the quarry had been used by an aircraft factory to construct aircraft. That's how big the place is inside! The farther you go, the colder it gets and Lorraine thanked me for reminding her to take her jacket. The stairway leading down the one wall was open over the cavern on one side with a fairly study handrail separating the stairway from open space. Once down at the bottom, the cavern sloped lower and there were different catacombs where the city sometimes holds concerts and such because of the mystical surroundings and interesting echo effects produced by the straight cut walls.

(Picture from the Internet)

Lorraine and I had just admired a very interesting tunnel-chimney like shaft directly over our heads and we were peering into a dimly lit cavern when I heard a sound like a train coming from far away. Air conditioning switched on? In this place? But the sound got louder and louder and I noticed the plastic chains baring tourists from unknown places swinging freely.

EARTHQUAKE! I grabbed Lorraine's hand and started back the way we'd come. What a place to be in during an earthquake! And the shaking got stronger and stronger! We got to the stairway with images of the mountains crashing in on top of us and the place was shaking so much that we had to grab the slim handrail with both hands. There was only one other couple in the quarry with us... younger... and they speeded past us and up into the final leg of the stairway-tunnel. I was hanging onto Lorraine again telling her there was just a little more to go. We were all right now because we were past the empty cavern. We ran up those stairs at top speed and I wondered about Lorraine's heart after this horrendous scare and sprint up a shaking stairway. We'd never discussed heart health before....

At the top of the museum entrance we both collapsed onto some stools with me holding on to Lorraine for dear life and telling her we were fine, it was all over. Until a museum worker came in and told us the building might collapse so we'd be safer out in the open. The open though turned out to be dusty and hard on the the lungs. Some people who had still been in the parking lot said that part of the mountain/hill that we'd minutes before been admiring, had collapsed in a cloud of dust.

There we sat, a group of 6 of us while the shaking came in waves. Someone wondered if the area we were sitting at would go falling into the earth and maybe we'd do best to get completely out of the area but a gift shop clerk assured us that the ground under us had NOT been carved out and that we were in the safest place we could be.

In a period of lull Lorraine got out of the area as fast as we could and made our way to Tetsu's convalescent home which was on the way home. We found all the residents out in the parking lot being cared for by staff while Tetsu ran around checking on the building itself. After Lorraine and I calmed down a bit we headed home and were surprised to find roofs of Japanese homes minus their tiles, stone walls with bricks scattered along the street, a whole stone storehouse with a gaping hole in it's side.

It wasn't really until Lorraine and I got back home and turned on the TV that we realized how far spread the damage was from this quake and the others that came on it's tail while we were driving home. Home by the way being Lorraine's home too until the trains are back in operation but who knows when that will be.

However we have all been in touch with family and everyone close to us is accounted for. Lorraine's family was especially glad that she hadn't been on the train already and lost somewhere in the chaos of Tokyo.

So all is well and we are bearing up nicely even with all the aftershocks. More tomorrow.

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