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My Day in a Tsunami Warning Zone

I was having a peaceful evening at home, reading things on the internet and Twitter, getting ready for bed. Suddenly, @tiger (college buddy of [personal profile] jd, roommate of pyrogenic when in SF) said: "Wow, this earthquake is even crazier than last time." She is in Tokyo, which is 300 km from Sendai, which is the city closest to the offshore epicenter of the quake. She continued tweeting throughout the shaking, which went on and on. More reports started flooding in.

The casualty report from the quake seemed mercifully light, and there was a retweet going around about the thanks due to Japan's engineers and building codes. Then the tsunami hit. Horrible.

I live very close to the coast in California, by which I mean that if I rolled a cheese down the hill, I could just about see it plonk in the ocean. Any event that involves the upset of the Pacific Ocean is likely to be of keen practical interest to me, because I need to know whether I am going to need to hightail it to higher ground or not. My building is on a hill, but there is always the possibility that the access road could become swamped, or be destroyed. The NOAA report said that the waves would be reaching us just after 8am.

When the tsunami advisory for the coast of California became a tsunami watch, I started packing a few things in addition to what I had already prepared. My initial plan was to gather everything such that I could just grab it and run out the door, if it seemed like we would need to leave. Once I had stuff gathered, I could re-assess, and see if I should leave NOW, or get a few hours of sleep (wake at 6am) and re-assess (and probably leave) then. [personal profile] jd kindly offered shelter, but I'd already decided that I was heading to my aunt's.

By the time the tsunami watch became a tsunami warning, I had stuff together, and I was disinclined to stick around when the roads could be much more jammed at more pleasant hours of the morning. I was more than awake enough to scram, and would have had problems falling asleep in my own bed. So me, my external backup drive and its plug, some clothes, water, food, a nice big pillow and my amazingly warm microplush blanket, and Cyteen, plus assorted extras, headed off to my aunt's by way of the gas station. I checked out with IRC and Twitter before shutting down the computer and leaving.

My aunt is on a nice tall hill. Yay, hills!

It was around 3 in the morning when I got to my aunt's. While I could have let myself in, that probably also would have awakened the whole house (they weren't expecting me, and there are dogs, who do recognize me but also go in for noisy greetings, and it's entirely a different thing to slip in late at night when you're expected from when you're unexpected), so I decided to curl up in the car and wait for signs of life.

I wasn't altogether sure whether their place was a good place to be in the event of a tsunami, because while it is nice and high, all of the exit routes are significantly more low-lying (although not in the red zone). I decided that if they thought it was a good plan to be elsewhere, then we could go together in the morning; I had my stuff portable-between-vehicles. So I set an alarm on my phone and curled up. (The setting the alarm took a while, as my dear phone company thought that clearing some shit without my leave was a great plan, to resolve a problem that's a physics problem that probably will require a femtocell to resolve.)

I emailed Dad and my best friend, to let them know I was safe. I posted to my journal and Twitter, to let them know I was safe. I texted my aunt; I managed to fumble-finger the thing so I started to ring the cellphone, but I am pretty sure I hung up before it actually connected. I arranged the pillow, wrapped myself up in the blanket, reclined the seat, and tried to get some sleep.

Cars passing kept waking me up, but eventually things went quiet. It was a little chilly, but the blanket was nice and toasty, even though I didn't have all the edges tucked quite right.

I woke with the dawn, around 6am. It was very peaceful, and if not for the horror in Japan and the impending waves, even if they were only going to be a meter, it would have been idyllic. Also, I didn't have enough sleep. But I was awake, and I had strawberries. By 7, it seemed that they would likely be up, and I knocked. They were surprised to see me, and hadn't heard the news yet. (Upon returning home and booting up the computer, I would discover that the first email I'd meant to send, with the link to the alert, had not been sent. Woops!) They seemed to think that I was perhaps overreacting a bit, but better safe than sorry. My aunt had to drive my uncle to the airport at 8, so I stayed with the dogs.

They have a bit of an ocean view from the hill, but there are trees and houses and things. I did go out on the deck and take a look. I didn't see any drastically larger-than-usual waves crashing against the rocks from my perspective, but there were some swells that looked bigger than usual, some of them with little crests on top where they were trying to break.

Some guy's video: Waves & rocks (beware loud camera(?) motor at one point) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ov2v-hy198s

(mostly sirens) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SzPjlFoEB0

When my aunt came back, she had been listening to the news and saw the streets in the low-lying areas blocked off, so she took my wisdom in skedaddling for high ground much more seriously. Deacon had a vet trip, and she took him for that. I stayed with the poodle. My best friend emailed back. He'd just heard.

When she got back, she asked me how much sleep I'd had. Not much. She suggested a nap. So I took one, entirely missing lunch. My phone was starting to protest the constant Twittering, but the solar panel battery pack got it out of the red zone. Maureen Johnson, YA author and organizing force in the direction of increasing the amount of awesome in the world and decreasing the amount of awful, started another donation drive for Shelterbox. I had not heard of them before she mentioned them after the NZ earthquake, but they are now in my top charities of choice. (They are disaster-relief: think how much better the aftermath of any disaster would be with proper camping/emergency gear and trained people who know how to set it up and teach you how to set it up.) I left the solar panel to charge on the windowsill outside the shades while I curled up to catch up on sleep. (The solar panel I have is lovely, but seems to sometimes require charging from the outlet, so it's not reliable for disaster charging. A new one is on my list.)

One of the tweets that started making the rounds before I conked out was rm's "Using disasters to proselytize is tacky. Atheists, this includes you. Believe as you wish; help if you can." That one resonated with me. I would describe my own religious affiliation as Pagan or Neopagan, with a belief-in-supernatural-forces that runs on a situational scale from tinhat to agnostic. For the world in general, agnostic. I don't know, I can't know, scientific examination points in the direction of "no such thing exists" pretty damn clearly. On the other hand, I've had some damn weird personal experiences that science will chalk up to coincidence, the pattern-seeking behavior of humans, and other weird human neurological funtimes. Making law that flies in the face of science is just stupid; not taking practical action but trusting in a supernatural force to bail one out is likewise stupid. But, in the middle of all the twitterchaos, [personal profile] tiferet said "Prayer is a way to focus will & intent", just as someone else mentioned that they knew they needed to be doing things other than being glued to the news, but they didn't know what.

All of those things came together in my head just then. Just as funerals are for the living, prayer in times of disaster is for the people who are not dealing with it. (The people who are dealing with it, maybe they're also praying while they're dealing, but that's their thing.) Regardless of whether one believes in good vibes or supernatural involvement, prayer is a clearing and focusing of the mind upon the topic at hand. Ideally it is a form of meditation, with a twofold benefit. First, it sets the mind in the direction of helpful action, such that when disparate items are presented later, maybe they will come together in the head in a helpful way. This could take the form of innovation, charity, volunteerism, or what-have-you. Second, after it is done, it clears the mind of the immediate all-consuming worry, the obsession, about the catastrophe, and prepares the person for actually going about their life. A student glued to the news cannot study. A worker glued to the news cannot work. (Well, unless the study or work involves being glued to the news.) A body suffers when it's under tension and strain, even when the tension comes from situations thousands of miles away, when one's already given blood, given money, given time and attention, signal-boosted. Even if the prayers do nothing directly for the people suffering, as long as prayers are not used as excuses to avoid other forms of contribution, they can be generally helpful.

It took me a while to get to sleep, but once I was out, I was out hard.

I woke up just before dinner. My aunt was at the gym. I un-separated the dogs (they can't be together unsupervised anymore, because Dazzle will bodyslam Deacon, whose hips can't take it anymore) and stripped the sheets and caught up on more internetty things. There were no reports of damage in my area, though a harbor up north got torn up pretty badly, and there was something about a photographer getting dragged out to sea. We had dinner when she came back, then watched a program on studies of dog domestication (hooray for genetics), and then I watched a back episode of MythBusters while she prepared for an invasion of cluppers. (A relative, from my uncle's side of things, was coming. Perhaps with a buddy. From the description, he sounded a bit like the teenage roosters my family used to dub "cluppers", after the sounds they made when grabbed and hugged.)

She had to go retrieve them. I headed for home, by way of the store: I was nearly out of cheese, and did not want to have to reboot the universe.

I'm back home. No damage that I could see in the dark. Since my computer was already off, I took the time to dust the cables (again), so my DVD drive is being recognized again, so maybe I can watch Inception soon. My father emailed me and praised me for heading to high ground promptly and as a first reaction.

Currently I'm catching up on internet, and fretting about the reactors that are having a bad time. But I'm safe, and the tsunami warning for my area was a blessed anticlimax.

A rundown of the whole thing so far on Wikipedia, drawing from multiple sources.

[personal profile] azuire has a roundup as well: http://azuire.dreamwidth.org/72254.html

Crossposted. comment count unavailable comments.
Gone away, gone ahead,
Echoes roll unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead.
Why have all the Weyrfolk fled?

Where have dragons gone together
Leaving weyrs to wind and weather,
Setting herdbeasts free of tether;
Gone, our safeguards, gone, but whither?

Have they flown to some new weyr
Where cruel Threads some others fear?
Are they worlds away from here?
Why, oh why the empty weyr?

-- "The Question Song", Anne McCaffrey
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