OK, so I don't have a, "Things to do before I die." list, and sure enough, "Survive a natural disaster.", would not be something on this list if I had one. I just thought it would be funny to make one. Ha ha ha...
Well, dang, where to start? I guess I should start out with telling you how Amami got hit by a natural disaster and then tell you about my experience.
Amami is a subtropical island. In the spring, we have a rainy season. The rainy season is determined by weather pressure wether or not we have rain. We also get a slight rainy season in the fall, as the weather pressure turns back south (I think they call it tropical pressure in Japanese). With that tropical weather pressure line falling right across Amami, compounded with the effects of typoon Megi, we had unprecedented amounts of rain fall here in Amami. We had, in the city of Amami, a record of 736mm from the time it started in a little over a 24 hour period. I read on a news site somewhere (but can't find the site again), that stated the record of rain fall in Amami, over a 24 hour period, was 500 something millimeters an hour in 1976, which was completely destroyed by this new record. With a first hand experience, I can say that it was a scary 24 hours.
Although I've only heard of major natural disasters like the sunami in India, earth quakes in Haiti and Chile and things like hurricane Katrina, being this close to something this big makes me realize just how devastating natural disasters can be, being a part of one. It doesn't compare to those kinds of major disasters, but it was a disaster none the less and I feel for those who have been effected by them.
The rains started on Tuesday night. I remember being at home and hearing the hard rain start at around 11:00pm. I have satellite TV and it was about this time that I could no longer watch TV. I tried to go to sleep but the rains were so heavy it kept me awake most of the night. I eventually went to sleep only to wake up at about 5:30pm to the sound of the rain. I got up and went to my school where I teach English and started to prepare for my lessons for the day. I hadn't heard of any warnings at all and just went about my day. By 7:30am, when it was time for me to head out to Uken, we decided that I should drive my daughter to school. While heading out, I absentmindly left my backpack full of my the items I use for my lessons, along with my wallet, mobile phone and money at the door. I drove my daughter to school and made my way out to Uken (which is an hour drive to the board of education offices in Uken). It wasn't until I arrived at the offices that I had realized forgot my backpack. "Oh well", I thought. I then drove out to the school I was scheduled to teach at in Nagara and taught my classes. I finished up just before noon and then started for home. The rain was more than usually but I didn't think anything of it as I knew we had a typhoon close (unless you're in the middle of a typhoon, they're not that worrisome).
As I was making my way home, I came across several places where rainwater gushed from the side of mountain and left amounts of silt and rocks in the road. Again, I chalked this up to the heavy rain, but didn't think anything of it (not thinking things could get worse). I made it about half way home when I came to a place in Sumio where the water was exceedingly deep. I parked my car and got out in the rain to see just how deep it was to see if I could pass. I walked about 100 meters in knee high water around a corner only to see that the river in the valley had overflowed and the entire valley had turned into a huge ravaging river. As soon I saw this, I knew I was in trouble. I rushed back to my car as fast as I could, got back into my car and drove as fast as I could back to Uken. Here is a link to Google Maps of the area that was flooded by the river all along Highway 58.
While driving back to Uken, I came across places that had loads of silt and rocks deposited by water cascading off the mountain that wasn't there before when I came. It was then I felt this growing feeling like, "Oh crap, this is big!" With my windshield wipers at full blast, I hurriedly made my way over and down the mountain towards Uken. There's a small bridge at the bottom of this road that only one car can pass at a time. When I crossed this bridge going home, I noticed how much the river had risen, but the bridge still had a good 2 meters of clearance above the river water. When I reached this same bridge, the river was just brimming it with water flower over the road on both sides. I stopped the car just before the flowing water before the bridge and hesitated, deciding whether not I should cross. Although the bridge was being overcome by the river, it didn't seem to be in any immediate danger, so I floored it and shot across the bridge and flowing water and made it safely across. There were several places after the bridge that were flooded, but I was able to drive my car past and make it back to the offices, which were in a safe place. Here another link of the bridge I floored it across in Google Maps. This place actually has a road view if you zoom in close enough. When zoomed in close before you get to road view, you'll see a concrete company that makes concrete ditches and things of that sort on the southern side of the river after the bridge and a couple of orange orchards on the northern side. This was all completely submerged by this river. While looking at this bridge in road view, the buildings you see plus the large tree near the buildings were all you could see besides the river. It was huge.
I was completely drenched from walking in the rain and luckly, but not so lucky, the offices had a washer and drier in a kitchen type area that I could clean and dry my clothes. I borrowed a small hand towel to cover myself as I washed my clothes (as they were dirty with brown muddy water I had tried to walk through previously), and as I had just started to dry them, the power went out. "CRAP! I don't want to wear wet clothes!" went through my mind. "Oh well, I'll just have to manage." I thought, just as a bunch some of my students' mothers walk into the room where I'm buck naked covered by a lonely hand towel. It was an embarrassing moment, needless to say, and I covered my privates with the hand towel in one hand and retrieved my wet clothes out of the drier with the other. They sensed my embarrassment and one mother said something along the lines of, "It's nothing we haven't seen before." as every single one of them continued to watch me. Ugh! "If you've all seen this before, why are you staring so hard to catch a glimps!" I thought. I hurriedly dressed and made my way to the main offices.
The power was out, but it just so happen that the Uken Fire Department shared the same building as the Uken Board of Education and had a power generator. So with the power generator, we were able to to get power to some of the power outlets in the building. Though we had power to some of the building, the phone, satellite TV and internet were out. We caught wind that the town hall also had power and was able to use their phones, satellite TV and internet and wondered why we couldn't. I figured that our building's networking structure didn't have power to these utilities and it got me thinking. "If I could find the local hub for these utilities and run an extension cord to them, I could probably get them working." I voiced my idea to the rest of the people in the office and they immediately said, "lets not mess with that." I knew it was a simple matter so I started to check around the building for a room that housed the networking devices for the phone and computer network servers. I found it and then (without asking), grabbed a very long extension cord and stung it out to the room I had found. I then unplugged everything in the room and connected them into the extension cord I had strung, plus a few multi-connectors. As soon as I had everything connected, one of the fire department personnel came running in saying, "We have phone and internet capabilities!" No one knew that I had done this and when I told them, they all started praising me like I'm some sort of genius. I then told them they could probably watch TV too and they checked and saw it was working, they went bananas. I'm not saying I know all about server networks, routing, phone lines and things of the sort, but I know enough to know that if someone else in the area has it, we should be able to also. So I single handedly helped the Uken Fire Department regain communications of more than their mobile phones. It wasn't that great of a feat, but it seemed like it to them.
They don't have any big stores in Uken so food became scarce the first night, everyone having bought most of the instant food in the first couple of hours hearing it was going to be a disaster. While I was washing and drying my clothes, the announced that they were going to evacuate a bunch of people in the surrounding area. With no food, people donated rice and other things to feed the evacuated people, hence the mothers' of my students barging in on me while I was drying my clothes to start to prepare food for the evacuees.
How long should I make this post? Well, I guess I should tell the whole story, so it's going to get long.
Emergency rations are, well, emergency rations. The rice that was donated was divided and put into long plastic bags. They also added some watered-down soy sauce, tied the top of the bag off with a rubber band and boiled the contents for 30 minutes. What came out was a ball of putty rice that didn't taste that bad. That morning my wife had made me a breakfast sandwich that I had halved with her since I'm on a diet. So from the morning at 6:30am, I didn't have anything to eat until about 8:00pm that evening. I was hungry and didn't complain with what I had.
The next day, everyone was assessing the damage. With no breakfast, I headed out with a few members of the Uken Board of Education to assess the damage to different schools in our district. We checked the schools and headed back to the offices. More people had donated more food and they decided to make curry rice. They tried to stretch what they had and the curry became curry soup. The rice was the rice they had made the previous day and the soft mushy rice was now a cold, hard, thick ball inside the plastic back. Not having very much to eat in well over 24 hours, it was delicious.
We heard that the southern city of Koniya was going to have a boat to ferry people to Naze that evening. When I heard that I thought, "If I could only make it to Koniya." Well, as luck would have it, word came over the radio that they had opened a way to Koniya, albiet the road was very round about. Several teachers that work in Uken don't actually live in Uken. When they heard this news they started to make plans to make their way to Koniya. I din't know if I could find a place to park in Koniya, as parking is hard to come by in Japan, so I left my car in Uken and found passage to Koniya with a fellow teacher who actually lived in there. I was able to by a ticket and I found my way back to Naze early Friday morning.
So I've been back in Naze since Friday waiting for the roads to open up. I heard today that they were open but the backup was pretty bad. Since I have work tomorrow, and they probably expect me to be there, I decided to go pick my car up today. I borrowed my brother-in-law's car and made my way to Uken with my wife.
These are the photos I took of my way to Uken today. I didn't want to cause a hassle so all the photos are literally point-and-shoot, just putting my camera out the car window or shooting inside from the car as I was driving. They've had a couple of days for clean-up and it's not quite like I saw it the first and second day, but you get an idea how bad it was.
Here's the slideshow
You get an idea of just how bad it was, but as I said, they've had the chance to clean up so roads aren't as bad as they were the first and second day. They were able to move most of the silt and rock from the middle of the roads to provide safe passage but, in the hairier places, it's still pretty nasty. They also flew in a bunch of Japanese Defense Force personel to help with the disaster as you can see in some of the photos.
So those are the photos I took from the city of Amami to Uken passing through Sumio Town. This is just one section of Amami that was hit hard. There are plenty of other places that were hit just as hard, but I don't want to add to the traffic jams and hassles, just to get some photos so this is all I took.
Also, I wrote this up and tried to double check it, but I know I have a bunch of spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes and I just don't have have the time to run over it several times to look for mistakes. Feel free to e-mail me if you find any. I'll fix those up when I get the chance. Tahnsk... lol
Post Edit: Fixed up a some spelling and added a few Google Map links as well as widdle down the amount of photos I had in the slideshow to about half.