“It started as a tremble.”
— March 9th, 2011
On March 9, 2011 two back-to-back megaquakes struck Japan and triggered a one-in-a-thousand year tsunami.
I was sitting in a cafe with my cousin when it began. He was visiting from the US and had never experienced and earthquake before. It started as a tremble. I actually laughed it off and reassured him when he straightened up, glancing around in alarm.
It didn’t feel like much at first. Nothing out of the ordinary. There had been a M6 quake the day before. The news had said we already had our big one. How little they knew.
Perhaps the Earth was insulted by my laugh because then suddenly the ground shifted beneath, we felt it slide, and a waitress screamed in the kitchens as plates began to fall from the shelves. We held onto the table for dear life. The lamp above us hit the ceiling from side to side.
My cousin gave me a look of “Let’s get out of here.”
We stumbled across the black and white checkered floor, gripping seats for dear life as other customers scrambled. Outside we greeted a world that had changed. Streets had been torn open, telephone poles hung over the streets, and everyone walked around crying or in a state of utter disbelief.
But no sooner did the first quake start, then a second, equally huge, one begin. People sobbed and begged the Earth to stop. It took another two minutes for that one to stop.
The aftershocks would continue for months.
There were many stories that came out that day of others experiences. One of my students told of how the birds in her yard had been screaming and screeching all morning around the birdfeeder and giving her no peace. She had been tempted to get rid of it all together. They had never behaved like this before.
The birds had gone mad. Then, five minutes before the quake began, the birds went deathly silent and all took off. She had been relieved. “Ah, finally some peace.”
In another part of Japan, an elderly Japanese woman would later tell me her experience. Her cats behaved so strange that morning. They all climbed up onto the fridge or book shelf and would not come down. They kept crying as loud as they good. They wouldn’t even come down to eat and when she tried to get them to come down, they retreated further and further back. They refused to come down and seemed terrified of something.
All over there were crazy stories of animals behaving in bizarre ways hours before the quake. Dogs that acted in a panicked state. They seemed to know something bad was about to happen.
Meanwhile, in the hours after the quake it was getting cold and the trains were down. My cousin needed to get home to our medicine so we had to hitchhike with my former employer who was kind enough to give us a ride.
When we finally made it home, we slept downstairs. My husband made it home about 2 am. All night we were tortured by aftershocks in a world gone mad.
Here is a video of footage from that day for a taste of what it was like: