By Eddy Montilla
Each Friday afternoon, I go to Tagajo city to teach English. My student asked me to change the date to have lessons on Wednesday. Tagajo was partly destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami with a lot of death and missing people here and there. I am not a great one for saying conditional sentences (if I…) nor unreal past (if I had gone), but this time, I would like to make an exception and say: what would have happened if I had gone that Friday to this city? I cannot find an answer. Only God knows.
Japan is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area where large numbers of earthquakes occur to the point that we don’t get accustomed to them, but we learn to accept them. However, this time, we are talking about the worst earthquake in Japan’s history and one of the worst in the world (magnitude 9.0), and therefore, things should be seen from a different perspective. In Miyagi prefecture, a disastrous earthquake had been expected for years and there was over 70% probability that it would hit this area soon. New Zealand’s earthquake and recent earth tremors trigger the fear of thinking that the moment was about to come.
The earthquake caught me on my way to meet a new student. Since I still had a couple of minutes, I decided to enter a shopping mall and take a look at some articles on the fifth floor. Some glasses smashed into many pieces and many things fell down quickly. Then I ran to the place where I thought I could be safer: The restroom. There, I lied down behind a wash-hand basin. Buildings in Japan are not rigid, so that they can resist the oscillation produced by earthquakes without crumbling. The Japanese construction system lets buildings to “move from one side to another”, but in such circumstances and with such magnitude, nobody can guarantee that some buildings will not collapse.
I saw the left side wall cracking in front of my eyes with a big hole in the center. I cannot deny it: I was afraid.
Circuit-breakers stopped the electric current inside the building to protect it from damage and a prerecorded message announced about the earthquake and that the building was safe. However, it is very difficult to feel like this: “Safe”. The fire alarm rang because of a fire on the eighth floor and water came out of different pipes automatically to try to extinguish it. Like one of those thrilling scenes we see in Hollywood action movies these days, but with the big difference that if I were the leading man, I would prefer a stunt man for them!!
During difficult moments, time seems to go slowly; during an earthquake, it “stops”. When it was all over, we were evacuated by some employees, calmly, one by one. The ground continued shaking, but not at the same intensity. From the door, I went to the center of the street. People gathered intuitively as humans usually do when one is afraid or after some calamity. I looked up the sky and a strange feeling came over me that I cannot describe well with words. I imagine that it was a mixture of relief, peace and, above all, gratitude.
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