Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Getting Prepared for the Big One

A series of three quakes shook Japan on Saturday September 23, 2004. The largest one was measured at Richter scale 6.9, in Niigata prefecture, some 200km northwest of Tokyo. It happened around 6pm. I was in the kitchen frying ribs, when all of a sudden I heard the clinking sound of wine glasses and when I took my eyes away from the frying pot, I saw the glasses swaying precariously on the rack, then I felt the ground shaking. For a split second, I thought about turning off the stove and go hide in a room where there’s no risk of being scalded by boiling oil, but I decided to stand my ground and finish frying the ribs. After a few seconds of shaking, I actually felt dizzy (funny isn’t it?). And the quakes occurred two more times, all in the coures of dinner preparation.

Last night, I watched on TV the damage caused by the quake. They showed National Guards evacuating people from dangerous areas and I was glad to see dogs among the rescued. Twenty-six people have already died as a result, mostly elderly people and young children. Some 100,000 people were forced to evacuate and are now living in emergency shelters with not enough food or blankets. Over 200 aftershocks have occurred, sometimes as large as scale 5.

When we first came to Tokyo four years ago, our relocation advisor told us we should prepare an earthquake kit and familiarize ourselves with the emergency shelters in the neighborhood. I always brushed it off as paranoia, but seeing it happen, albeit just on TV, convinced me that it’s time we get prepared.

After carefully surveying my entire apartment, I have decided that the walk-in closet in our bedroom would be where I keep the kit (i.e. we’ll try to run there when the house starts to fall apart). I picked it because: a) it has no windows so no danger of being decapitated by falling glass, although come to think of it the window glass at my place is of the type that don’t break apart, but one can never be too careful; b) we will never be cold due to skimpy clothing items; c) it’s right next to the bathroom which, due to all the pipes running in the walls, is supposed to be structurally sound, relatively.

Now, what should I put in the kit? The Niigata earthquake has proved that you really do need 3 days of food because that’s how long it’s taking to get food and other supplies to the area. The recommendation is 2L of water per person per day. I think that’s a ridiculous amount of water, but anyway, I will keep a case of six 2L bottle water in the closet. Food is a tough one. If I stash candy bars and cookies in the kit, I will just end up eating it, so I’m going to stock it with canned food, with the pull-open top of course. (Maybe just one or two candy bars.) When I was talking to my colleagues yesterday about the earthquake, one guy said that it would be good to have a tabletop gas stove, the type for hotpots that uses canisters, in case you want to have something hot to drink. Hmmm, not a bad idea, I will throw that in too, along with some instant coffee, tea bags, our camping mugs, two sleeping bags, a tent (one family interviewed on TV was saying how grateful they are to have a tent to protect them from the icy rain), foam mattress, flash lights, heating pads (another useful item according to the rescue authority) Libby’s food, bowls and toys. Man, it’s just going to be like a camping trip!


Rachel said...

Sigh, I know, I've been telling myself for years to get an earthquake kit together. Maybe this weekend will actually get my act together. You know what else would be really useful...if I only knew how long they lasted...there are these disposable cellphone chargers, which I think would be especially important if, for example, you aren't together with Jason when the quake hits.

Maybe you need 2L of water per person for other things besides drinking, like keeping clean, washing any injuries, etc.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be anywhere I can run to for shelter in my apartment. Only a dinky little table. God I hope it's enough.

Hsin said...

Shame on the two of you. We have 3 kits around the house!! We even have a designated meeting point within the nearest evacuation point (Aoyama Cemetary). Actually, it's just the "kiasu" Singaporean in us - the kits were put together after some BBC report last year suggesting that Tokyo was ripe for a big one.

Lynn said...

Hsin-li, you have 3 complete kits around the house? I spent the longest time trying to decide where to put my kit. Glad to know the cemetary is an emergency evacuation spot. At least we are nearby.

And my biggest fear is actually not that Jason and I would be separated, it's if we are separated from Libby. She wouldn't know where to go, and she has no survival skills whatsoever. So I only ask for one thing: that if the big one hits, please let it hit when at lease one of us is home with Libby.

Rachel said...

Our problem is we kept changing our minds on where would be the best place to meet up. And then we moved and had to come up with a new meeting place. So now I have to keep asking Akito, "Where are we meeting again?" I bet if an earthquake ever hits, I'll be drawing a blank.

Lynn, I feel the same way about Edward. My biggest hope is that all three of us--Akito, Edward, and I--will be together.

Hsin said...

Okay, okay, I exaggerated. Our kits are incomplete. After today's aftershock, I think Danny will be nagging me to get them in order.

I worry more about Sara than Danny. Danny's mostly in two places - at home and at work, so he can make it to Aoyama Cemetary fine. I worry that I can't get the baby and she's left all alone. Hey Rachel - yet another dog-baby parallel!

Lynn said...

Geeze Hsin-li, I was all ready to go to your house and take a look at your kits to get a better idea of what goes in it! Now you tell me they are incomplete.

Regarding Sara, at her age, aren't you with her all the time? I don't understand. Unless you are talking about in the future. How long are you planning to stay in Japan?