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An Alaskan in Tokyo shares Japanese quake experience

Alaska Dispatch

On Thursday, March 10, at 9:23 p.m. Alaska time, John Faciane, an Alaskan living in Japan, posted the following Facebook status: "Big earthquake and aftershocks! I'm okay." In the wake of an 8.9 magnitude quake and strong aftershocks that destroyed Japanese coastal communities and caused tsunamis to ripple all around Pacific coast lines, Alaska Dispatch spoke with Faciane by e-mail about the state of his own Tokyo neighborhood and how living in Alaska prepared him for the effects of a devastating quake.

Alaska Dispatch: Where exactly are you in Japan? What are you doing there?

John Faciane: I am in a suburb of Tokyo called Ikuta in Kawasaki City. I live about 20 minutes from the heart of Toyko (Shinjuku area). I currently teach and assist in the Office of International Academic Affairs at Senshu University.

AD: What was the initial quake like?

JF: The initial quake was interesting. It started out really light. It reminded me of one we had a few days ago. My students were laughing and told me (in Japanese) that it was normal. I then said in Japanese, "No, I'm from a place that has a lot of earthquakes. This is getting bigger. You should get under your desks now," after I said that it began to shake violently.

AD: What's been the worst of the aftershocks? Do you think your time in Alaska prepared you at all for an earthquake of this magnitude?

JF: It was much bigger than any of the big ones I've felt in Anchorage. This one was different in that the really violent shaking lasted for about three minutes. I've never been so scared in my life. I was thinking that was it, game over. I feel, though, that my upbringing in Alaska, and schooling in the Anchorage School District prepared me for what happened. I am very thankful for those duck and cover drills.

After the first quake finished, I brought my students to the office where we waited for instructions. As we (waited) a pretty big aftershock hit. It wasn't as bad, but it was still pretty violent. Then they evacuated us to one of our university's sports courts. We have been having smaller aftershocks ever since.

AD: Is there much visible damage in your area? What kind of reports have you been hearing from elsewhere?

JF: For damage, there was no visible structural damage in my suburb to my knowledge. Our office was messy afterwards. Books and folders were on the ground. The damage elsewhere is much worse. In Miyagi and Ibaraki the damage is indescribable. We were watching the news live after the quake, and saw the tsunami enveloping the towns. Tokyo has had some big fires and structural damage, but nothing as bad as up north.

AD: How is the infrastructure? Are most communication systems still pretty intact?

JF: The infrastructure reacted very quickly. In our office we have helmets and emergency packs for every employee. We've heard many emergency vehicles running. Cell phone service is spotty at best. whenever I tried to call friends to see if they were okay I couldn't get a line out. However, I have Skype on my iPhone, and that worked perfectly. Twitter and Facebook were actually the best lines of communication. Some friends have been saying that they are OK, but the gas lines were cut off for Tokyo until pretty late. As of now communication is intact. The focus now seems to be shifting to the north where the damage is the worst.

AD: What kind of vibe have you been getting from the residents? Are they pretty shocked by it all? How would you describe it?

JF: The residents around me are in good spirits, considering what has happened. Most people are just concentrating on getting a hold of family and friends. We're back at work in our office, checking on flights that our students are on. The mood seems to be very somber here, but everyone is trying to do what they can. I can't speak for whats happening in the worst areas, but in my area things are doing fine at the moment. Most people didn't get much sleep last night because of the news and aftershocks. I was up pretty late contacting family and friends in the US. Today people are for the most part tired, somber, and shaken up.