Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On: Tokyo Earthquake, March 11, 2011

Tokyo has been experiencing some minor earthquakes for the past couple of days--one I didn't feel on Wednesday the 9th, and one that I did on Thursday the 10th. I don't know if they were related or not, but today's quake happened about 1445 local time, when I was in Omotesando/Gaienmae on the 14th floor of a somewhat old building. It started out shaking, and we thought it was just a typical quake--yes, I suppose we should have been under desks or whatever, but you get blase about these things.

After it had gone on, and gotten worse for 30-45 seconds (typical quakes are under 10), my buddy went out to make sure his staff were ok. I guess it was good that he did, since some of the filing cabinets were starting to roll and the drawers pop out. We somewhat stupidly held up the cabinets, preventing them from falling at a time when we probably should have been under a desk at a bare minimum. People in the office were screaming and clearly not happy with life.

While I haven't confirmed it, the rocking and rolling went on for about three or four minutes, which approaches a lifetime when you are holding off an aggressive filing cabinet. It subsided, and then we checked to make sure everyone was ok, and started to head out. The building was either still shaking or my inner ear was a bit confused--I felt like I had consumed a few stiff drinks as my feet weren't going exactly where I expected them to on the floor. We found the stairs and went down the 14 flights, noticing that several of the stairs were gapped a bit differently than normal. That, combined with the large vertical crack in the wall of the office (at least we couldn't see outside) encouraged me to get a move on when the first aftershocks hit. At this time, mobile Internet was working ok (e-mail and facebook, as I'm not a twit), but SMS and cell voice were completely out. Landlines seemed to be working ok, and for the first time in 15 years I saw people waiting in line at pay phones. All the subways were stopped, as were the trains, and taxis were completely full.

Walking back to the office took the better part of an hour, and when I saw a bus in Roppongi heading towards Kamiyacho, I hopped on. Soon it was full enough that it would stop at a bus stop, tell people "sorry, we're full" and keep moving--a first for me in Tokyo.
Get on the bus!
I got off, bought some donuts to take to the office for sustenance, both moral and physical, and went in. Everyone was ok (I'd confirmed that before leaving the building in Omotesando), but shaken. I was pleased to find out that all of our customers were up, and that we had handled the spike in phone traffic without any capacity problems (OK, I'm a network geek even in this kind of situation. So sue me). Everyone had the choice of leaving basically then, or hanging in the office, enjoying donuts and tea and leaving at a convenient time.

I called my gal on her landline and let her know that I would handle picking up Miss A, and walked down to the day care to do the pick up. All of the kids were huddled in a little circle with the teachers, wearing some sort of soft hat (around a third of the office workers were wearing hard hats, which are standard issue emergency equipment in tokyo). The report from the teachers was that (a) Miss A was scared like everyone else and that (b) as usual, she asked for seconds at oyatsu (snack) time. Good to know that the all important kilter was not thrown off!

And then we walked! It just so happened that Uncle S''s office was on the way home, so we stopped there for a visit, not realizing that Koh had already left the office, and then (having called the office and found she left a while ago) played catch up for a bit. Miss A was a real trooper--walked most of three km before deciding that she was cold and needed to be carried (and she agreed to ride on shoulders, which is good since I can no longer arm carry her more than a couple hundred meters--28 lbs of little gal is a lot). We sang the totoro song for a good chunk of the way, mixed it up with some Mr. Rogers, made up some songs with funny words and sounds, and watched completely full buses pass us by and then get passed by us. Stopped by a supermarket, discovered that the line inside was longer than we were likely to spend walking the rest of the way home, so bought a banana at the convenience store next door and kept moving.
Have banana will travel
Ran into/caught up with Koh about 400 m from home, to which Miss A said "Mommy, have you been at work? Why? With Mickey?" (We're into questions now, especially why) Continued the rest of the way home, and confirmed that we had lost one wine glass (a heavy vase fell on it), had a bookshelf barf it's contents (and shelfs) on the floor, but were otherwise fine.

Watching the news, we can see that there is a refinery fire in Chiba (think Pasadena vs. downtown houston for those of you familiar with it) and Odaiba telecom center (can't think of a relevant comparison, but not amazingly close) seems to have a fire that may come from some of the power capacity there, but I don't know. Family and friends wise, everyone seems to be fine, and we're just praying for the people up north in Sendai.

Thanks to all of y'all for the kind notes, and will be signing off for tonight soon.

PS Over the course of the last eight hours, we found the following network experiences:
1) The Internet rocks. Wireless Internet was consistently good, even from mobile access. Them folks who designed for spotty network access sure knew what they were doing!
2) Facebook is actually useful for broadcast messages and other updates.
3) SMS is not useful for the first 3-4 hours.
4) Cell phones are useless for voice.
5) Landlines are still largely useful, but you still need to call a few times.
6) GPS has, at best, marginal value at this time, as the access network was too crowded for useful access. Lots of timeouts. Google maps/equivalent and printers ruled, though--stopped several times to help someone better understand their map, as I've walked this route before for fun rather than need.

PPS To Whom It May concern: Catfish with active tail | tectonic plates | earthquake gods, enough with the aftershocks already. I'm tired and ready for a good night's sleep.

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