Wednesday, March 16, 2011


March 11th 2011.. 2:45 PM

I was in a conference at a hotel near Shinagawa, Tokyo and overhead chandelier started to shake. Slightly at first...First thoughts were 'ah another quake..should stop within few seconds..just wait it out'..Speaker stopped talking. Ready to resume once shaking stops..But after just 3-4 seconds the movement just went on increasing and soon it was shaking as if we were sitting in a freight train..Shaking sounds of chandelier, walls, glass windows together is permanently burned into my memory now.

'This is big'..'Calm down..calm down'..were the voices around..My first reaction was to get away from the chandelier and move closer to walls..taking out my mobile to call my wife sitting..Our being a high rise mansion I was deeply concerned..Before I could call I had a missed call from her and then every cell line went dead..not getting through at all..This is bad..Still shaking..Is this 'the big one' expected around Tokyo region? All kinds of doubts and fears were popping in our minds.

Someone opened the blinds facing Tokyo bay, and immediately we could see the huge fire near Odaiba. High rise mansions around Tokyo were still standing. That was somewhat assuring. Tokyo fire departments helicopters were immediately airborne.

After a couple of huge aftershocks within 10 min of the main shock, hotel staff decided to evacuate. Phones were still down. Meanwhile,  someone turned on a TV on their mobile. It was working. Center was in Tohoku. North Japan. So this was not the one expected around Tokyo. But one thing was clear. Wherever this quake was centered, sizable damages and casualties were certain. But nothing had prepared me to what really was coming.

I decided to walk home immediately. Now thinking back, this decision was well timed.

During my 3 hours walk back home, what I saw proved the real character of Japanese society.

People walking back home. You can see the counterweight of one of the high rise has come to rest in odd position after violent shaking.
No panic - at least not that you can see, no pushing around, everybody walking in line and even waiting for pedestrian signals, office staff circling around a building to navigate people around broken glass and apologizing for 'the inconvenience' caused.

Hard to see in this picture but many window glasses are broken
I reached near our mansion expecting a hike to our twenty something floor. Fortunately elevator had started. My wife was preparing to leave to stay with our friend, on much lower floor to avoid elevator outages. I was more than elated to see my family. But after I looked outside of my house I saw this.

Fire at the Chiba oil refinery (See wikipedia)

Immediately I turned my attention to TV and soon realized that this all is far from over. But I never realized that it would be the most turbulent one month of our lives.