On March 11, the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s history struck off its coast.
The 8.9-magnitude earthquake caused a powerful tsunami that cut through cities and farmlands in the northern part of the country, leaving more than 12,000 dead and the same amount or more missing, according to reports.
However, the disaster’s effects reached further than its aftershocks for Craig resident Atsuko Fording.
Fording, a Japanese native, said the news of the quake shook her world, too, as she feared for the safety of her parents and brother who live in the Tokyo area.
“I used to talk to my mom a couple of times a week, but after the big earthquake the lines were down,” Fording said. “I tried to call for four days and I couldn’t (reach them). I was so worried for my parents.”
After an exhaustive wait, Fording said she was relieved to finally hear her family survived the disaster mostly unscathed, aside from a bit of damage to their home.
“I was crying because I was so worried about them,” she said. “I checked the news and Tokyo was not (affected) by the tsunami and that kind of damage, but I didn’t know what happened. It was a pretty big shock.”
Fording’s feelings of worry were compounded by the distance separating her from her family, she said.
“I almost called the Japanese embassy,” she joked.
Fording, a 43-year-old deli clerk at Safeway, has lived in the United States for 10 years. She was born in the Tokyo area and has lived in Craig with her American husband for 20 months, she said.
She said the earthquake didn’t damage the area where her family lives as badly as the northeastern coast of the country.
“Where the most damage was seven or eight (in magnitude), but Tokyo was a five,” she said. “That’s still pretty big, you can’t stand up. Tokyo didn’t have damage from the tsunami but actually people were afraid. At the grocery store, people were crazy buying up all the food and water or the toilet paper, that kind of stuff.”
After learning about the devastation in her home country, Fording said she was heartbroken.
“Actually, it was shocking,” she said. “It was a big shock because nobody thought that big (of an earthquake) would have happened in my life. I looked at video of the tsunami and thought, ‘Oh my God.’”
At the time of the quake, her parents, who are reaching their 70s, were shopping at a department store. Her brother was home in the family’s new, seventh-story condo desperately trying to hold things to the walls.
“He was thinking that he would die,” she said. “Yeah, because it was so big and he was worried about our parents because they went out.”
According to reports, more than 160,000 residents were displaced by the quake and more than 10,000 have evacuated their homes due to the ensuing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which suffered partial meltdowns and other quake-related problems.
The town that once played host to the nuclear power station has become a ghost town, she said, and people are finding shelter in baseball stadiums, schools and other places as more earthquakes continue to rattle the country.
“Many people are now leaving the camps, getting out of town or moving, but you know, there is still so much worry,” Fording said. “The aftershocks — how long will it keep doing that?”
But, despite the continued damage, Fording said she is proud the crime rate hasn’t risen significantly from people taking advantage of the stressed conditions.
She is also proud of the support other countries gave Japan, whether it was sending money or baby formula.
“Everybody was worried about Japan, everybody was thinking about it,” she said.
Much was the same at work, she said.
“Everybody asked me, ‘Are your parents OK?’” she said.
But, Fording said most residents are taught what to do in case of an earthquake from a young age, as tremors are common in the area, she said.
Years ago, Fording said she distinctly remembers the feeling of waking up in the early morning to an earthquake when she was about 12 or so.
“I’m just (hiding) under the blanket and everything,” she said.
But, being ready for emergencies is part of the Japanese culture, she said.
“Many people ask why you would want to live in Japan with so many earthquakes and things that happen?” she said. “But, that is why in the Japanese elementary school or middle school, every few months we have a practice for the earthquake.”
Fording said she has faith the Japanese will overcome the disaster, rebuild and move on with their lives. It is in their blood, she said, and is evidenced by her grandparent’s generation, who recovered from the damaged caused by World War II.
“People have a past war that left big damage in our country 50, 60 years ago, but everybody just helped each other,” she said. “Now, Japan is a pretty big country, everybody knows Japan … everybody just keeps working hard and I think that’s the spirit of the people.”
Although they might not have been tested as much recently, Fording said the values instilled into the generations of Japanese who rebuilt after WWII were passed down to the new generation.
“Now, people are spoiled a little bit I think,” she said. “But we just have to believe in the young generation to rebuild. We have to.”
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