Sunday, March 27, 2011

It didn't even occur to me that anything had happened in Japan until I received a pop-up screen from one of my news service accounts this morning.

I clicked on the pop-up link and was taken to a site that showed one of the most remarkable videos I'd ever seen of a tsunami that hit Japan's coast and just kept going...and going...and going...seemingly for miles and miles, destroying everything in it's path.

Things seemed surreal, as the tiny little houses, cars, buildings and roads in the video...obviously shot from a helicopter or plane...just crumbled and burst into flame before my a little toy village.  It just didn't seem real, although I knew it was.  I'd never seen anything like it, even in the devastation that hit Thailand's coast years ago, just months after I'd been vacationing on Koh Phi Phi island.

Then it hit me....


Growing up in El Paso, Texas I met and befriended practically a whole Mexican family just up the road from me.  My best friend Steve Willis and I used to run together quite often and we all used to hang at Grandview Park Public Swimming Pool, where Raul Herrera and his brother Jesus Herrera used to hang out.  Over several summers we grew to be inseparable.

My connection with Raul Herrera...a.k.a., "Camel," his nickname arising from his height, bent stature and semblance to a dromedary...a nickname he certainly was not fond of at all...was mainly our long conversations while walking to or from Austin High School, regarding our mutual love and fascination over Asia and Southeast Asia.

I remember Raul saying to me once, "I know I will travel to Asia one day.  Japan probably...I don't know...maybe China...and I'll learn the language.

I vividly remember him saying that.

While I simply went on and on about how my parents had lived in Asia for seventeen plus years and how all I ever heard about was Asia, Asia,, my desire was also to travel there, but perhaps not as delineated at Raul's dream.

Zip forward several years....

I'd lost contact with Raul early in the game, shortly after graduating high school...besides, we really weren't that close anyway.  But his brother Jesus and I were close and although I had lost contact with Jesus, I always knew various ways to get info on him.  I'd last spoken to him in 1989 at my mother's funeral when I managed to find his phone number and call him when I was in El Paso.  We talked briefly and he told me he'd become a preacher at some church in the highlands.

Years later I set out to contact him again.  Since Jesus was blinded by a shotgun blast to the face back in high school, I always knew to contact the Lighthouse for the blind.  The info I got back this time was sketchy though and some Indian guy wrote me to say last he'd heard Jesus was in Mexico.  But, word was finally passed on to his older brother Mike in Florida and he, in turn, contacted his brother Raul who was living, of all places, in Japan.

I received an e-mail from Raul about a week later and he gave me the contact info for Jesus, who was now living in Missouri.  Raul hadn't changed much, he was still rather cold and acerbic in his words.  Reading between his lines I could almost detect a sour apathy for life in general.  However, we have managed to stay in contact from time to time and I have relayed some information to Raul from his brother since as in many families there is a bit of distance between the two.

But, upon hearing about the devastation in Japan, my first thought was if Raul was okay.  He's been living in Tokyo for well over twenty some-odd years now and working as a translator among other things...also keeping up with his love for music and publishing some stuff.  I sent a brief e-mail out to him questioning if he was okay and this is the response I received...a fairly interesting read from someone who was there and experienced the earthquake and subsequent devastation and managed to stay alive.


Hi Jim,

I'm OK.
The following is a copy of an email I sent to people on Saturday, the day after the quake hit.

(I'm alright....really)

The quake shook us on the 8th floor. I could not believe the way that building shook.  People on my floor starting screaming and some people jumped under their tables.  I tried to keep standing and leaned my pelvic region against the edge of the desk while holding my computer and monitors to keep them from falling over.

As the shaking continued without letting up, the huge computer monitor on the desk nearby was just about to fall over when I leaned over and grabbed it and kept it steady.  On a desk further out, a compuer simply toppled over and broke up on the floor.

When the first quake stopped. Working mothers soon started to try to check on their kids in school or day care. However, the cell phones stopped working after a while. We were ordered to leave the building by stairway, and we could see cracks and a few small pieces of wall on the floor in some places.

We were allowed back in after a 30-minute wait, but the aftershock hit and we were ordered out again. I had turned off my computer twice and was starting up the computer a third time when the computer message in Japanese asked "Do you want to do a normal startup?" and I kinda laughed because the system was probably confused with me forcibly shutting it down twice within the span of a few minutes.

I carefully shut it down a third time and laid the computer and screens on my desk in an orderly manner so that they could not topple over. My supervisors were telling me to forget about the computers and ust get out.

We went to a park which is an evacuation center. There we waited a while and the ground shook gently.  By this time, all cell phones ceased to function and some people had some devices that broadcast news. These were not transistor radios because they had screens.

All train services (both above ground and subway) were shut down, as were the toll highways. They made
arrangements for us to stay overnight (I assume) but those who had a means to get home were allowed to leave. I told my supervisor that I could walk home (which is a six and a half hour walk at least, but that doesn't bother me that much).

As I walked in the direction of my home and got to the center of Tokyo the streets got more and more crowded with people could be seen in the streets trying to walk home. Women in high heels entered stores selling tennis shoes or walking shoes to give their feet a break. I wanted desperately to get my hands on a bicycle because you can cover much more ground on a bicycle. My hopes were answered when I found a store that sold everything including bicycles. I chose the cheapest model (a three speed) but it took them one hour to prepare it, because everybody and his brother was buying a bicycle.

When I got out on the street, the streets were jam packed with cars and the sidewalks crowded with people.
It only took me 40 minutes to cover ground that would otherwise have taken about 2 and 1/2 hours, so I feel that
the bicycle decision was the right one.

When I got to my neighborhood, my piano and computer rack had been pushed up against each other in a jack knife sort of configuration which prevented either from toppling over. That was sheer luck.

That's about it. My legs are a little cramped this morning, but otherwise, I'm OK.

Tokyo seems to have been spared the devastation that the rest of the country experienced. There were three or four quakes that occurred within a few minutes or hours of each other in the ocean.  Their combined effect seems to have caused the massive devastation.

I'm sort of trying to get through this right now, to take it all in.
That's about it. We're all just hoping no more big ones come for a while.

Take Care Jim,


To me this e-mail was rather eerie since it came from the exact source.  I must admit I've edited his e-mail a bit since Raul's grammar...well, sucks.  
You see stuff on the Internet and podcasts, etc. and it's all media hysteria.  This, however, is a direct account of what someone in the country experienced, which I think is pretty cool.  


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