Last week I posted the amazing, horrific story of Mike XVX, a Portland animal-rights activist who witnessed the carnage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Another Portlander who recently moved to Japan, kindergarten teacher Lacey Leming, got in touch and sent me her whole story of what happened during and after the quake. It's a different, but very moving perspective—Leming moved to Sendai a week before the quake to teach English at Felice International School. She's still there, helping out and planning to continue teaching.
Here's an edited version of the story she emailed to friends and family:
“On March 11th 2011, 2:45pm, I was privileged to witness the depth and beauty of the Japanese people.
I was in Sendai for a five-week training to teach English with seven other English-speaking teachers, my boss, and the vice principle. We arrived in Sendai on Sunday after a 5-hour drive from Isesaki city, Gunma. I had great fun with them all… trying new foods, learning new teaching techniques, getting drunk at karaoke with teachers from around the world.
"Listening to a presentation in a conference room, the building started to shake, the table wiggled. We all kind of blew it off at first. There were two earthquakes earlier in the week… then it turned violent. The windows stared to shake, one broke, and things came off of the walls. We all got under the long table, lucky for us it was along hardwood conference table. All of us teachers held each other’s hands. We kept telling each other it was going to be ok. It seemed like it would never stop. Things were crashing all around us. Once it stopped we waited a few seconds and got out from under the table, as we were rushing out of the building, I looked back and there was a large crack in the table were the projector fell.
We all went outside, some of the teachers were on the ground crying. You could hear the warning siren wailing in the background telling people to evacuate the city. As we stand there not knowing what to do next, it starts snowing… hard. All cell phones, electricity, and running water stop working. We are forced to the ground as the aftershocks just came one after another. After waiting in the snow for two hours we decided to go to Mr. Asaski’s house (a friend of the school) to check on his wife. His wife is ok, but the inside of their house is thrashed. He gives us spare flashlights, clothes, blankets, and directs us to a shelter. On our way to the shelter we stop at a convenience store, as they are everywhere in Japan. People are lined up and they are giving away free water, bread, and warming pads. People waited calmingly and only took one of each thing as instructed.
We get to the shelter very cold and tired. There were many elderly people and children. I asked if we could donate our food to pass out to everyone, as we all got a bag. Everyone I was with agreed. That night I had a piece of bread for dinner.
To keep my mind off of things I helped the elderly get water, get to the bathrooms, and get blankets. I played with the children. At one point I noticed a girl crying in the corner. I asked one of the Japanese teachers to translate for me. She could not find her parents: They went to work and did not come back home. Later, a mother of three boys came in with a broken leg and a head wound. Our group took care of the children. That night I slept next to the little boys. One of the boys could not sleep as the ground felt like you are in a plane, always moving. The aftershocks just came one after the other every 30 minutes or less. I put his hand in mine and we cuddled all night, I would put my body over the boys when an aftershock would come. We slept on the floor. We were running out of blankets, so I gave my sweater and jacket to an older lady and my vice principal. I had a towel and the boys for my warmth. We did have generator with a heater, but it went out half way through the night.
The next morning the city brought emergency food: rice with bits of nori in it in plastic bag. We would put water in for an hour and let it sit. It was very small portions. I took one bite and I felt someone watching me. One of the little boys had inhaled his, and was looking at me like he was still hungry, so I gave him mine. We sat and listened to the news of the tsunami, reading newspapers to update us as well.
Around noon, we were told that we would have to leave the shelter because there was no heat and no more food. My group helped the elderly get out safely. I met a very young couple who could not find their only daughter… don’t know if they ever did.
One thing I noticed as I went to go help get water from the stream for the toilets: All the clocks stopped at 2:45.
We did go to Sendai city to get our stuff. Half of our hotel was collapsed. Not the half we were on…our half just buckled. Our stuff was on the floor, but it was fine. There are things I saw when we went back to Sendai I can’t get out of my head.
We finally got a map book and routed our way home through Japan. All the traffic lights were out so it was very dangerous. We did it though.
I was amazed with how orderly and calm the Japanese were. There were stores letting people in one at a time, with lines around the building. Nobody was pushing or getting angry. When we were in the shelter we were laughing and smiling and bonding. I really got to see first had a very strong people. I feel honored to have seen this."