Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends...

Hello All,

First off, for any of those who haven't been updated as to how I am doing over here in Japan... I'm fine. Please don't be concerned for my safety. Saying that living in Japan has presented me with some challenges is a gross understatement. I wanted to send a mass email with some bits of information just to give y'all an idea of what has been going on in my neck of the world lately and to clarify some things going on over in this area of the globe. 

Friday at 2:46pm (Japan time- duh) I was sitting in my office at work when my coworker, Mac, mentioned that he was feeling an earthquake (which is definitely the norm around these parts). After about 10 seconds he looked at me and said "This isn't right, get your shit, and let's go. NOW!!!" and he ran out of the office. Now when a man who has lived in Japan for over 20 years yells and runs... I follow! I sprinted down he hall, down the two flights of stairs and out the door behind him in enough  time to be the first people out of the building and to be able to watch the old building (THE oldest on my base) shake about 2-3 feet side to side. We could barely stand up outside. This went on for at least five minutes. It was really unnerving to see people around me who had lived in Japan for years and years start crying and calling family members. That's about the time that it hit me that this definitely wasn't normal.

We went back inside the building to crazy amounts of things that had fallen and broken. We had two lights fall from the ceiling. Our fridge fell over. One bookshelf broke. Our computers and file cabinets had toppled over. A table fell behind our storage closet and is still currently blocking us from being able to get inside for supplies. Other people in our building had their tvs fall off stands and break. And the building stairwell railing broke. We got evacuated from the building because it was assumed to be unstable and they would have to inspect it before we could return to work (wait...I'm sensing silver lining here!). By 3:30pm I was told to head home to make sure I still had one. 

The drive home was insane. A 5 mile drive took me over an hour with the traffic, I dumbly assumed people were just freaked out and wanted to make sure their houses were okay (which was partially true) but I didn't grasp just how bad everything was until later. I really didn't have any clue what to expect when I got to the house. Alex had been able to talk to me via gchat (Thank God for gmail) the entire time this was going on and definitely helped put things in perspective for me (don't turn on the lights when you walk in, check for gas leaks, leave the door open for easy escape if necessary... those Navy guys are pretty dern prepared)! I walked in and everything seemed to be fine. The worst that happened was that everything fell off the walls, couple of frames broke, DVD tower toppled over, fridge doors were open, and tv had fallen over (out of sheer luck, the tv fell towards the wall behind it and not the other direction towards the ground). No gas leaks, no power failure, no burned down house, no lack of water and no cracks in any walls. We were/are definitely lucky. I pretty much thought this was over at that point, and I was wrong.

Alex told me I needed to turn on the news. I managed to get it onto Japanese news (that in and of itself was tough - there are like 30 remotes!) and could see that this earthquake extended far past what I could have imagined. Even by just looking at the pictures and videos on the Japanese news I could tell what was going on. People in Tokyo were quickly uploading pictures and videos of the happenings there, from ceilings falling in Narita airport, to buildings cracking in half near Shinjuku, and mass shaking all around the city. The center of Tokyo is less than 15 miles north of where Alex and I live and work. The trains had been stopped everywhere within about a hundred miles of Tokyo. And if I've learned anything from living as a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan, it's that the trains do NOT STOP. That is how everyone commutes to and from work. Trains just do not stop here, end of story. Tokyo was dealing with some major problems. Again, we got lucky.

After nearly 30 minutes of freaking out about not being able to get any news in English, and not knowing where everything was coming from, Alex calmed me down enough to help me figure out how to get CNN. The news showed what was going on in Tokyo, they showed what was happening in more northern regions of Japan. I could see that the quake(s) had caused a major set of tsunamis that had radiated towards the town/coast land nearest to the epicenter of the earthquake. Myagi Prefecture just happened to be the most unfortunate area on the planet on Friday. Two of the main towns in the Myagi prefecture were Sendai and Ishinomaki. Most of the videos you've been seeing on CNN and MSNBC are from those areas. The videos look like something straight out of an action/ adventure movie... or a horror one. You've undoubtedly seen images of people floating on rooftops, of people being rescued from cars that have been carried miles from where they were parked, and you've probably seen the images from the massive amounts of water tearing apart everything in its path. I can assure you that these videos are absolutely authentic, that the interviews from people on the news are true, and that there is a major disaster that is still occurring in the country I currently live in. 

Since the earthquake and the tsunami, there have been issues with nuclear reactors. Japan is one of the world leaders in nuclear power and technology and these types of power plants give electricity to over 30% of Japan. These plants are very important to this country and right now they are (in an effort to down play it a bit) "on the fritz." We are having rolling blackouts (scheduled power outages to conserve energy so that we don't use everything up and then have a major power outage for everything  run by TEPCO in my area). So since Friday we've been having blackouts at work and home 2 hours at a time 2 times a day. Not a big deal for us. And the more we go without electricity at work and home, then the shorter the blackouts are.

I  just had a townhall meeting on my base and we were reassured that everything is safe and they would continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds. My area is looking pretty good. I am over 100 miles from the plants that are having the technical difficulties. I promise you we're not getting any nuclear green rain, and birds are not falling from the sky (although if the crows started dying here, I wouldn't cry about it. Those things scare me more than radiation). The bases in my area are taking precautionary measures by having people try to stay indoors as much as possible... but it is only a precaution. Please do not assume that if I step outside to go to the car or to make a phone call that I will magically turn into some radioactive weirdo. (I'm weird enough as it is, thank you very much.) I have the facts on the radiation levels and how non-detrimental to my health and well-being that Japan is at the present time. That does not mean that I'm not completely mentally flipping out. I am human, after all. This is scary stuff here, people! I hear the word "radiation" and as a non-scientific person, I go a little crazy. Alex's mom and dad sent me this link all about radiation. It's a great information source and if you want any information on what's going on over here to dispel any rumors you may have heard, check out the link. Radiation Info

So that's been the past few days for me. Exciting, don't you think? Yeah, I'll pass on this much excitement. Right now I have enough confidence in the US Military, the US Embassy, the Japanese government, and Alex... that if there was a real reason for me to go home to the US... I WOULD. Yes, I have moments of freaked-out-ed-ness (shhh, that's totally a word). But those freaked out moments have been relatively few and far between and I honestly do believe that (based on the research I've done as well as what experts and other military personnel have told me) I am safe here. If that changes, if my feeling of being protected here changes, then you can bet your sweet patootie that I will be on the first plane out of Dodge that I can find. 

What was originally reported as a 7.2 earthquake was then elevated to a 7.9 earthquake. From a 7.9 earthquake it was elevated to an 8.8 earthquake and then 8.9 and now it is apparently sticking at a 9.0 on the richter scale. Since then we have had over 305 aftershocks, more than 30 of which have been over a 6.0 on the scales. 15,000 people have been rescued. There are at least 8,500 more people still registered as missing. Google's People Finder site has been very helpful in putting families back together. 

Right now Alex is on his way back to Japan on the USS Blue Ridge. (Regular updates on the Blue Ridge can be found here: USS Blue ridge ). Alex is going to be back soon to assist in whatever rescue and relief missions the US Navy needs him for, there will be a lot of flying for him in the near future so please keep him in your prayers. He's going to have a lot of work to do in the upcoming months. He's probably the one that's going to be flying a lot of the goods and foods to the areas around the site where the tsunami and earthquake hit worst. 

As for my part in all of this, I am working with the Red Cross (Pacific Far East) to get donations to help out. I've been told specifically that they don't want your stuff. Stuff costs money to ship and to store and to transport, and that's extra money that they could be spending on food and water and shelter for the people who need it in Japan right now. In the past 48 hours I've collected about $700 just by talking to people on base to get donations for the Red Cross- I've had another $200 come in from people telling me they've donated online. Seriously, if you do ONE thing for me this year, please let it be a donation to the Red Cross. The best way to do that is by going to: Red Cross Japan Relief. On this site you click the top little dot for "Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief." Just to let you know what you could be giving for $20, you'd be providing- 5 meals of rice and water, 2 blankets, and a week of bathroom necessities... and possibly even more. Really any amount helps. And then you get to be an awesome citizen and tell people that you have a friend/family member in Japan and that you did something to help out when the country needed assistance. YAY! Also as incentive, any of my people that donate $25+ dollars and tell me about it, Ill send you something randomly awesome from here (when we get mail services back). Yes, that's a bribe. Don't care. :) You can also send a text and automatically give $10. Seriously, this is so easy. If you don't, I won't disown you or anything, but I probably would give you a dirty look if you were here. 

Right now it would be so easy for me to give up and come back to the US. But Im not. As of this moment I am sticking it out and trying to help out the best way I know how, by raising money for these people who have lost everything and by talking to my people and keeping them updated on what's going on from a local perspective. Consider me your local representative as to what's going on over here. Feel free to ask questions. I'd be more than happy to try and explain things to anyone who wants. 

PLEASE pass this email along. You guys know that I'm no spammer, we just need some major awesome US of A assistance right now. I thank you for everything. If nothing else, I hope this email will convince you that I am safe and currently not in harm's way. I'm sending big hugs to all of my friends around the world. If you have gchat please add me- swiggard@gmail.com. It is the best way to contact me any time of the day. If you have facebook, I'm posting a lot of updates on there. If you have a computer (and obviously you do) this info will be posted on my blog here. You all have been so wonderful and supportive and I am very thankful that I have such a great network of people in my life.

Domo arigatou,



M. Swiggard


  1. Thanks for the update, Megan. I'm so glad you're safe. I also really appreciate hearing the story. I'll be donating, I just misplaced my wallet two nights ago... but as soon as soon as that little bugger shows up.

  2. Amazing update. You know how the news is over here, just a series of quick soundbites. We're not really getting in-depth info from people who experienced it firsthand like this.

    Posting link to this on fb, if you don't mind.