'It's been heartbreaking'

Topsail native considers herself 'lucky'

Deana Stokes Sullivan dss@thetelegram.com
Published on March 16, 2011

Tuesday morning as Melissa Dawe was getting ready for work in Akita Prefecture, the TV news was interrupted with a local earthquake warning.

“They said they expected it to be strong and they fear the ground in some areas has been weakened by all that’s been happening the last few days,” said Dawe, a Topsail native who teaches English in Japan.

Thankfully, she said, the aftershock wasn’t that strong when it hit.

Dawe lives about a three-hour drive from Sendai, the epicenter of the massive earthquake that hit Japan Friday.

“We are lucky in Akita Prefecture. There has been no major damage and no recorded deaths. But we border the places that have been hardest hit (Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata),” Dawe said, in an email sent from her school.

At home, she has no Internet access, and power is being rationed to conserve energy. She was completely without power and water for two days.

“It’s been heartbreaking to see what is happening all around us. There are many people here who have friends and family in the affected areas, some have been heard from, but others are still missing,” Dawe said. “What’s happened has impacted everyone in Japan. We’re all thinking of what the hard hit areas have been going through. It’s still winter here, so temperatures at night are below freezing. Today they are calling for wind and snow. We’re still experiencing strong aftershocks.”

Earthquake warnings have been in place for several days.

“They say to prepare for another earthquake of a large magnitude within the next week, so many here have been preparing emergency kits,” Dawe said.

“We were without power and water for two days in this area, so it was a little bit scary sitting in the dark, having no idea what was even going on around us. But, what we have been experiencing is nothing compared to what others are going though, entire towns have just been destroyed, so many people dead, thousands still missing, so many being housed in shelters and doing without power and water, with very little food. It’s a scary feeling to be in bed at night and feel your house shaking all around you. But, I realize how lucky I am to have a bed to sleep in, and I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be for those on the coast who are in shelters or still stranded outside.”

Rotating blackouts have been put in place to try to conserve power, Dawe said. “We’ve all been told to use as little electricity as possible, not to use cars unless we have to, etc.,” she said.

At the school where she teaches, Dawe said lunches are normally provided for students and teachers but that has all been cancelled to try to help out other areas.

“There is nothing coming in,” she said, “so gas stations are completely empty and closed. We’ve all been rationed to 10 litres per person.”

Dawe said most houses don’t have central heating and residents are using gas stoves and kerosene heaters, both of which are in short supply.

And supermarkets are empty, she said, “just aisles and aisles of empty shelves.”

“But again, Dawe said, “we all realize how lucky we are, and everyone here has been helping one another, checking on neighbours and sharing what they have.”

Dawe said she would urge anyone who wants to help to donate.

“The devastation is really incredible. People’s whole lives have just been washed away, entire towns just gone. It’s really hard to grasp the magnitude of what has happened.”

To view more photos of the earthquake in Japan, click here: