Earthquake, March 11, 2011 – my first 3 hours, by J.J. Dubowski.

11.04. 2011
When a M9.0 earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011, I was working in my 3rd floor office at the University of Tokyo Institute for Solid State Physics. The first jolt lasted about 15-20 sec, and it shook the solid concrete building with an impressive force. I said to myself, “well, I experienced an earthquake like never before” (my previous experiences were limited to short tremors, never lasting in my estimates more than about 5 sec). Then, the second jolt came. I jumped under my desk, because this is what I was told I should do in a situation like that. Fortunately, nothing was falling from the ceiling or from the walls. Without leaving my hiding spot, I peeked through the window: {rokbox text=|nothing was falling outside.| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/Nothing%20was%20falling%20outside.jpg{/rokbox} A wave of jolts followed the first two, all displaying the impressive force of nature. Then, after about 3 minutes it became quiet. Nobody was screaming, nobody was running. I took my jacket and stepped out of the office and I began walking down {rokbox text=|the concrete stairs| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/The%20concrete%20stairs.jpg{/rokbox}of the Institute. I could hear an announcement streaming in Japanese from the building internal loudspeakers. On the first floor, I met a Japanese colleague who was climbing up the stairs. “What do they say”, I asked him staring at the loudspeaker. “We just had an earthquake and I think we could now return…” He didn’t finish his sentence when another tremor began shaking the building. He turned 180 degrees and quietly continued: “We should leave….”

{rokbox text=|A small crowd was already gathering in the front| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/A%20small%20crowd%20was%20alredy%20gathering.jpg{/rokbox} of the building. The crowd was growing bigger, but {rokbox text=|nobody was running, nobody was shouting| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/Nobody%20was%20running.jpg{/rokbox}. People were talking in rather low voices, not certain if the quake was over. I was still shaken, although I could feel that the adrenaline level that was generated in my blood when I was crawling under my desk a while ago was slowly going down. But, the day was not over, yet… When the roaring sound of the Earth could be heard again from below, and {rokbox text=|the metal structure on top of the adjacent building| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/The%20metal%20structure%20created%20scary%20noise.jpg{/rokbox}began generating the noise that reminded me of a scene from Titanic, {rokbox text=|some people started holding each other and bending towards ground| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/Some%20people%20started%20holding%20each%20other.jpg{/rokbox}. Then came another jolt, and another one… I could see growing fear on everyone’s faces. Some people where remaining in crouching positions, some were kneeling, {rokbox text=|many were trying to call their families or watch TV| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/Many%20were%20trying%20to%20call%20their%20families.jpg{/rokbox} news on the small screens of their cell phones. We spent about 2 hours hoping that each consecutive jolt will be the last one. It was during that time that I watched the first live pictures of the Tsunami flooding Sendai and other areas of the Pacific coast of Japan. Nevertheless, it was still too early to realize the real scale of the disaster. Everybody I asked during those scary moments in front of the ISSP building answered the same: “I’ve never seen something like that”, “I’ve never experienced such a strong tremor”. I thought that my Japanese colleagues, polite as always, were trying to be nice to me by creating an artificial scenario where I would be privileged to experience with them something unusual “for the first time”. Finally, {rokbox text=|when we were allowed| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/When%20we%20were%20allowed%20to%20enter.jpg{/rokbox} to enter a single-floor building harbouring a cafeteria located in front of the ISSP, the {rokbox text=|TV pictures of a tsunami| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/TV%20pictures%20of%20a%20tsumai.jpg{/rokbox} arriving at the coastal line, minutes after the quake, began to illustrate the real problem. The {rokbox text=|ISSP crowd was watching| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/The%20ISSP%20crowd%20was%20watching.jpg{/rokbox} how the disaster, that we know today as at least 5-6 times bigger than the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, was unfolding in front of their eyes. The ISSP is located about 60 km northeast from downtown Tokyo, making us about 310 km from the epicenter. According to the earthquake map of Japan, March 11, 2011, produced by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), we were under the influence of {rokbox text=|M6.5 earthquake| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/M6-5%20Earthquake_Ibaraki_Chiba_Tokyo_Kashiwa.png{/rokbox}(“6-Lower” on the JMA scale). Getting closer to the epicenter means that people on the ground go from {rokbox text=|”difficult” to “impossible” to keep standing| size=|1000 560|}/images/stories/documents/Difficult%20to%20Impossible_JMA%20seismic%20intensity%20scale.pdf{/rokbox} (and move without crawling). Obviously, this would apply only if you were lucky not to be hit first by some falling objects… The ISSP building, constructed in 1999, has been designed specially to resist strong Japanese earthquakes. Its structure, indeed, remained intact, except, e.g.,  for {rokbox text=|the books fallen from the shelves of the Library| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/The%20books%20fallen%20Library.jpg{/rokbox} located on the 6th floor.

{rokbox text=|The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/The%202011%20Tohoku%20Earthquake.png{/rokbox} off the Pacific coast (the official name of the March 11, 2011 earthquake) is a strong reminder that Japan remains under the continuous influence of high-intensity earthquake activities. On March 15, I had a 1-hour Skype conversation between 22:30 and 23:30 with my associates in Canada. During that time, JMA recorded 3 earthquakes of magnitude M6.0, M5.6 and M4.0 (see: {rokbox text=|1 hour seismic activity| size=|1000 560|}/images/stories/documents/1%20hr%20seismic%20activity%20on%20March%2015%202011_JMA.pdf{/rokbox}) that made me think: “should I leave the building, or continue my conversation”. Many of these events can be predicted, primarily based on past experiences, but the exact moment still remains a wide guess. In the {rokbox text=|1st report issued by JMA| size=|1000 560|}/images/stories/documents/Japan%20Meteorological%20Agency.pdf{/rokbox} after the Tohoku Earthquake, a possibility of aftershocks with magnitude of 7 or higher was estimated to occur at 70% until 10 AM of March 16, and at 50% until 10 AM of March 19. However, the aftershock that occurred on April 7 at 23:31 (see {rokbox text=|1 week April 1-8 2011 seismic activity| size=|1000 560|}/images/stories/documents/1%20week%20seismic%20activity%20April%201%20-%208%202011_JMA.pdf{/rokbox}), the strongest yet observed since March 11, took place many days later. This weaker event was {rokbox text=|felt by almost half of Japan.| size=|561 350|}/images/stories/documents/Felt%20by%20almost%20half%20of%20Japan_April%207%202011.jpg{/rokbox}

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