>I don’t know what made me turn on CNN that night, but someone had posted a message in my twitter feed about a large earthquake in Japan. Normally, I would have been more concerned with the restaurant in my neighborhood getting robbed a few hours prior, but something compelled me to turn on the news as I was getting ready for bed. This is something I never do. Watching the news before going to sleep is bad for my health. All it does is stress me out.
Regardless, I turned on CNN and watched the events unfold. My Dad called to tell me about the restaurant getting robbed down the street from their house. “I can’t think about that right now. I’m watching the news about the earthquake in Japan. It looks really bad.”
At first, I thought the cars in the water were tossed off a cargo ship during the earthquake. I couldn’t understand why a car was trying to drive past them into the bay. Later I would hear that the cars were on the bridge and got tossed below. Whether or not this is true, I still don’t know. If there were people trapped in those cars or if they fled to safety, I don’t know either, but can only hope. Shots of devastation and shaking newsrooms mixed into the broadcast. The news came back to the cars in the water, but they were now gone. A torrent was washing over them and tearing down nearby buildings. Buildings!
There were some people parked on the bridge overpass watching the tsunami wave crash underneath them. Why they didn’t flee is beyond me, but then again, I don’t know that they had anywhere to go. They could have been trapped.
What I didn’t know was that the worst was yet to come. My Dad called back. “You have to put it on Fox 40. A tsunami wave is engulfing a town.” What? I switched to the local news and I still cannot fathom what I saw. My mind can only liken it to some awful movie plot when an asteroid hits the Earth. But this was real. This was happening right now.
A 30 foot high section of the ocean was moving onshore. “Is it ever going to stop?” Was all I kept thinking. There were no geographic features in the flat looking farmland to barricade the ocean from plowing over everything in its path. Buildings were on fire. The water just picked them up and moved them along, still burning. Cars were driving along what looked like a highway and the wave just missed them.
You could see people on the roof of a building watching the wave flow past them a few hundred feet away. The wave still hadn’t stopped. How many miles would it go? Will it ever stop? Of course, logically I know that it was running out of energy and would at some point peter out, but how far?
The camera then panned back to the ocean. A swath of white could be seen moving towards the coast. Another wave! It was like watching an accident about to happen in slow motion. Apparently the undertow from the previous wave sucked all the energy out of the new wave because it never made it past the beach. The force of nature was incomprehensible. I know there is math and science behind it, but until you see it happening it isn’t real.
Later, I would see the image of a man pushing a bicycle or cart down a commercial street as the tsunami rushed past on a perpendicular path. He didn’t even look back to see what the noise was. He just kept walking slowly up the street away from the rushing water like it was any other Friday afternoon. I assume he was shell shocked and wandering around in a daze.
My heart goes out to the people in Japan. Even though Loma Prieta was nothing compared to Friday’s earthquake, I can relate, at least a little, to the chaos, confusion, and fear that they are experiencing. I hope for miracles for everyone there who needs them, however small those needs may be.