Custom Search
Top Stories
Go to Site Index See "Top Stories" main page
CONTRIBUTION · 2nd April 2011
Alexandra Heidl
I currently live in Nogata, Nakano-Ku Tokyo. It is located in the North East of Tokyo. I am roughly 250km away from the nuclear plants. I am no longer afraid of the daily earthquakes or the next large one which has been rumored to follow; I am very concerned for this nuclear crisis.

I am a Canadian currently living in Tokyo and I thought that it might be helpful if I were to send you some information on my experience here in Japan since the earthquake. I also have family who live in Kitimat and know that detailed information regarding this situation is not reaching Northern B.C. I believe that it is important for Canadians to be notified of what really is going on and what the government is ignoring by holding elections at this time.

I guess I should take a brief moment to introduce myself. My name is Alexandra Heidl. I am 24 years old and was born and raised in Richmond, British Columbia.

I have been traveling for the past 6 years and I have been self employed as a private chef. I decided that 2011 would be the year that I would live in Japan to learn about the culture and become fluent in the Japanese language.

I arrived in Tokyo on February 11th and took the first week here to get settled in and start to get my bearings. During my second week I started the job search seeking out the best hotels to work in.

For weeks I sent out emails and played the waiting game. With patience I eventually got the interview I wanted and had my foot in the door. All my cards were lined up and I had the job.

The next phone call I was waiting on was for the day I was to begin work.

Unfortunately, the day I was to receive my phone call a 9.0 earthquake had struck Japan. Thus leaving to my life goals, plans and ambitions on hold, replaced with daily confusion and mixed emotions.

When the earthquake struck I was about 10 blocks from my apartment buying groceries. I remember hearing glass shattering and I turned around to see who had bumped into the shelf. Turning my focus to the glass, I began to feel the ground violently shake, throwing more glass to the floor. I quickly went outside of the store. There people who were walking down the street were frozen in terror. Two ladies stood next to me embracing each other crying out in fear. Looking up I could see the buildings shaking from side to side and power lines violently swaying. I prayed that nothing would fall. I asked the ladies beside me in Japanese where the nearest park was, but they were paused in shock and were unable to recall.

Suddenly the ground stopped shaking but my heart was still racing. I started to walk fast to the closest open area. I had tried to call my cousin Michael Craven to see if he alright, but my phone was unable to make any calls out-going calls. I looked around and noticed everyone had the same problem.

I next tried to connect to the internet on my mobile and had success. I was able to get in contact with my cousin via facebook and we posted messages together back and forth. He had encouraged me to return to my apartment as it was the safest place right now.

I had pulled myself together to make the journey back to my apartment only to get struck with another earthquake. I was completely freaked out, but knew that I had to make it back to my apartment. I was told that the area I was in was not the safest because the railway was close by and that the ground could collapse due to the many underground railways Japan has.

I had finally made it back to my apartment but the ground continued to shake and I was unsure of what to do. It was difficult trying to type in a message on my phone when my whole body was constantly shaking. So I stood outside of my apartment for an hour or two until I got the courage to ride my bike to my cousinís house. The aftershocks kept coming and I was afraid that their intensity would increase.

I had only been to my cousin's house twice and hazily remembered the direction. What was supposed to be a 2 minute bike ride turned into 20 minutes of riding in circles and trying my best not to break out into tears. Finally I was able to find his place and felt so relieved to be close to family. We exchanged information of the event but were still worried about the kids that had not returned from school yet. Thankfully one of Michaelís sons attends school nearby and arrived home shortly after I had shown up. But his second son was still at school which was a one hour drive into the next city. In Japan the schools require a parent to pick up their children in the event of a crisis, except the trains were not operating and we had no car.

With the phone lines down we were unable to get any contact to the school. Finally when Michael`s wife made it home at 4:30pm she got in their car and she drove to pick up her son along with some of his fellow classmates who parents did not have a vehicle. She arrived back home at 1am. The anxiety her and Michael felt about not knowing if their son was alright is heartbreaking. Luckily he was fine.
That night many people were unable to return home, leaving them stranded at the train station. Some people decided walked home, majority live and work distances similar to that of Langley to Vancouver.

That night the tremors continued, there were at least four with the magnitude of 6.0. And each day there is usually at least one earthquake a day that is between the magnitudes of 5.0 to 6.5. Since then there has been more than 420 earthquakes.

When the news had finally reached the west coast a day later, I was bombarded with concerned family and friends urging me to get to the nearest airport to fly out; unfortunately being on the other side of the world and uniformed of the situation, they did not understand the rippling effects that had occurred.

I had tried to contact the Canadian Embassy in Japan, but was only left with a voice message in Japanese. My Japanese is very minimal at the moment and I was not even sure what the message had said.

I tried for days later but was still unable to contact the embassy. Where was Canada?

After the devastation of the tsunami many people did not have the opportunity to flee the country, those who did left within the first week. Still in shock and unable to make any logical decision, I had chosen to stay. Even if I had wanted to leave Japan, there was no possible way I could get out. Airports were flooded, roads were damaged and trains lines were inoperable. Not only were train tracks damaged, but some trains had fallen off the tracks during the earthquake and had gone missing.

It had taken a few days, but Tokyo had repaired most of the main tracks and got trains operating to help people become mobile. Unfortunately, just as trains were becoming operational, the government imposed a rotational blackout to deal with problems occurring at the nuclear plants. In attempt to conserve energy most of the Northern part of Japan effected by tsunami and Fukushima crisis was divided into 5 groups, which would share in a daily rotation of a 2 to 3 hour power blackout in efforts to conserve energy. This rotation is still in effect.

The days following I began keeping update the only way I knew how. Watch the news and reading the papers.

The images of whole towns that had been wiped out had brought sadness to my heart, along with the tally of people reported missing and of those found dead.

Then the crisis at the nuclear plants became the pressing point. As if a tsunami killing thousands of people was not enough, people now had a nuclear meltdown to deal with. Tempco had to assess the plant first and the dangers before returning workers to the plant.

It was known that the plants were unstable and that there were leaks. But Tempco had announced that they would be able to assess the situation and bring it under control without damaging the plants.

There was a radiation warning a day after the quake as Tempco had to release pressure from one of the reactors to help stabilize it. But it was an unsuccessful attempt. At this time my cousin, Michael Craven tried to reach out to various politicians in Canada. No one replied. At around this time my cousin began editing documents for various Japanese politicians.

The days continued with the plants remaining unstable with more problems occurring. One day there would be progress only to be followed with another problem.

The Japanese Prime Minister remained like a puppet, telling the public as little as possible, except that there was nothing to be worried about and that there was progress with the reactors.

Then the government had declared an evacuation of people who lived within a 20km of the nuclear plants.

Only to be followed by an increase of 30km and a warning that iodine-131 had been found present in the water. Minor levels had shown up in Tokyo, which have increased today.

Then last week water was found seeping from No. 2 reactor at Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.

It was detected in waters on the west coast and again my cousin tried to alert Canada politicians of this, he even tried to contact the NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen and posted on Mr.Cullenís facebook wall many times. Only to be ignored.

The government also started to issue a warning telling parents with small children to use bottled water for formula, but insisting that it is not at any significant levels to harm adults at this time.

A warning had also been issued the first week that milk and spinach had shown presence of radiation and therefore should be avoided from areas near the Fukushima plants. The list of vegetables contaminated has increased since then, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has not declared them harmful to the public. They have stated that if people continue to eat contaminated foods over a long period of time, then it would pose a problem to their health.

A week after the earthquake when trains were running and I gained the courage to venture into the city, I went to the Canadian embassy with my cousin because he wanted to volunteer to help get information out in English to other Canadians. Unfortunately I had gotten mixed up with the four trains that I had to take to get there and arrived in the late afternoon. It was around 3:30pm and I was seeing workers leaving the building, I went to the floor where I was to inquire about what to do and found that native Japanese workers who are not native speakers of English were helping a room full of Canadians. The Embassy was seriously understaffed. There was not much these ladies could help me with except to register me within the system so that I could receive an email of current updates of the situation.

I received an email two days later informing me that Canada had not considered the Tsunami or the Fukushima meltdown an emergency and if Canadians wished to evacuate the country it was up to them. I think I only received the email because my cousin complained while we were there.

My heart immediately dropped and I became overwhelmed with abandonment. France, England and America, along with other countries had already sent planes to Japan helping their citizens to evacuate. I did not understand how every other country but Canada felt that this was a major issue of concern?

I was also upset of the lack of knowledge the Canadian government had and still does about the situation. If I was supposed to fly out myself how was I to manage that when the train line to the airport was not yet operational. Was I to sprout wings and fly? I have no car and even if I did the roads were still badly damaged. The safest place I could be was close to home.

I was told by Michael to follow his twitter account; there I was able to get updates from him as well as from the American ambassador.

Throughout the entire crisis the American ambassador has been posting current updates every hour along with useful information of how and where to obtain help.
This has got to be the first time in my life I could say that I wish I was an American.

At the moment I am ashamed of my country as it had done nothing for the foreigners living here and while the US is organizing private jets for its citizens, Harper has declared that the Crisis in Japan is not significant enough for an emergency evacuation of Canadian citizens. It was stated that Canadians on their own terms can find a way out of Japan. What has happened to Canada? I thought our country was based on our strong values and prided itself on helping other countries in need.
Comment by TLE on 2nd April 2011
That is a very eye opening account of her experience following the crisis in Japan. I had no idea Canada was not helping citizens to get home.