This one is a bit of an anti climax, but I am glad it is.
As the quake started, they were eating their afternoon snack. The shaking got worse, so their mother ordered them to hide under the table. Seconds passed, stretching into minutes. The elder boy felt emboldened enough to reach out to the table above and feel around for his plate. He grabbed his dish and brought his treats under the table, resuming his nibbling in contentment. His younger sister started crying; she could not reach her plate, and was too scared to venture out to retrieve it. The elder boy pondered for a moment; should he climb out and try to reach his sister's plate, or should he just share his own spoils with her. Before he could resolve this moral dilemma, his mother had rendered it moot by passing down his sister's plate to her. Both munched away vigourously as the room settled down and the plates in the cupboard stopped rattling.
Some sixty kilometers away, their father was also hiding under his desk. Throughout twenty two years of annual disaster drills at his workplace, he had never felt anything other than awkward when hiding under his desk, but today he was feeling conspicuously seasick, and tried to look out the window to get a non-moving point of reference to confirm the considerable movement his inner ear was reporting.
He was not at his usual workplace, which was the sixth floor of a building in Saitama, but was today at the company's head office in Kawasaki, to the south west of Tokyo. Even on the second floor, the shaking was the worst he had ever experienced. All through the morning he had noticed that the building seemed to vibrate even when people walked past the open plan floorspace he was on. This was a side effect of the anti-earthquake measures in the building's design; vibrations were absorbed rather than resisted. But the vertical, jagged shaking that started at 2:46 that afternoon was different.
This, he had learned from previous quakes experienced at his usual desk on the sixth floor, was the forewarning of worse to come. The high speed, smaller energy waves, that were used to trigger the early warning system that had recently been introduced, told him that a big quake was coming, but even so he was surprised when the real shock waves hit. Books and other small items were thrown off desks, dust and plaster fell from the ceiling, and clocks, blinds and computer monitors wavered like leaves in a breeze. After what must have been thirty seconds or so, he expected the shaking to recede, but it only got stronger. He thought back to the time lag between the faster, primary shock, and the slower moving but more destructive waves, and concluded that the epicenter of this quake must be quite a distance away, and wherever it was they were in deep trouble.
After what seemed like a long, long time, it eventually subsided. A few televisions around the room were turned on, and people started picking up the items that had fallen to the floor. His coat, laid on a shelf behind him, had a covering of dust from the ceiling above, and he noticed one of the light fittings hanging out of its mounting. Outside he could see a couple of low flying commercial jets, presumably veering away from the now presumably closed Haneda Airport in Tokyo Bay. Various attempts to phone his wife failed to even get a signal. The networks were understandably jammed. He decided to try email, as the computer in front of him, at least, was still working. He did receive one email, from CNN, telling him that the earthquake he had just experienced was registered as magnitude 8.8 by the American Geological Survey.
"Jesus!", he thought to himself; "That was bigger than Kobe!" remembering the lethal quake from fifteen years previously.
As he typed, the desk started moving again. The first aftershock of many. The rest of the afternoon was spent watching the television, which showed cars, houses and anything else being washed away by an unstoppable flow of water. One eye remained on the train visible in the distance outside the window, for as long as that remained motionless there would be no chance of getting home; and one ear was cocked to the PA system, which ordered those on the upper floors to evacuate to the canteen, and the emergency team leaders for each floor to report any damage.
It would take two hours for him to make contact with his wife, eventually using the emergency notice board set up by his mobile carrier. Within another hour he had confirmed with his family back in Ireland that they too knew that he was safe. A colleague offered a seat in his car going back to Saitama, which was accepted without a shred of the hesitation manners would normally deem expected. A six-hour car ride followed, and nine hours after the disaster struck, he stepped in the door of his home, glad to see that it stood unscathed, and that his children slept soundly.
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