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 Since March 11th our lives have completely changed. As things have gradually become more stable since the chaos that followed that day, I have gotten the spare time to consider the disaster, our future and myself. I would like to get used to life here in Saitama soon, but on the other hand, I'm sometimes afraid that my heart will forget Fukushima, feeling like my present life is replacing my old one.
On March 11th at 2.46pm, the Great East Japan Earthquake happened. I was in my World History class on the first floor of the school when suddenly strange and scary noises sounded in the classroom and students' phones began making weird noises. Immediately, I noticed that these were Emergency Earthquake Announcements on students' cell phones. A few seconds later it started shaking, so we hid under our desks and waited for the tremor to end. First, it shook a little, but gradually it swayed harder and harder. I felt as if I was rolling with my desk from left to right. I remember clearly that some of my classmates were crying and others were screaming in panic. I was more calm than I expected I would be and thought to myself, "This must be the earthquake off Miyagi prefecture" which we had anticipated.
After the earthquake we went into the schoolyard. It was still winter in Fukushima and very cold and continuous big aftershocks made us very scared. Students from the 3rd and 4th floors ran into the yard after us too, but it was several minutes later that a student in a wheelchair got out of the building, being pushed by some teachers. I felt very sorry for her that she was forced to be left alone in the building during the continuous aftershocks. I was so shocked and lost for words to see the tsunami on a video on my friend's phone. Even during the earthquake, I never imagined that such a big tsunami would happen.
That night I stayed at school. Fortunately, I could make contact with my family, but the route to my house had been closed by flooding ,and in my house the water supply had stopped and we had no idea when electricity would be restored. It was safer in school than at my house, so I stayed there. I tried not to show my sadness because around me I knew some friends who couldn't get in touch with their families yet, but when I was ordered to stay at school, I felt sad as if I was abandoned by my family, seeing friends going back to their houses with their parents one after another. In Namie town, where I used to live, there was an area called "Ukedo", which was a famous fishing district. When I heard from a teacher that Ukedo was gone, I escaped from reality, telling myself "It's impossible! Why?" As I saw a friend of mine who lived there not crying but only nodding at the news, I knew I had to accept the tsunami as reality and I felt helpless that I could do nothing.
That night aftershocks every few minutes prevented me from sleeping well, so I thought about my family, and friends who could go back to their homes. The next day, March 12th, was a long day. In the morning, I found the gymnasium the temporary morgue and a teacher told me that my house was within 10km from the nuclear power plant and inside the evacuation zone. At that time, I thought what a terrible thing to have happened to us, but I still didn't expect that we wouldn't be able to go back to my house for so long.
Later, my parents came to school and we evacuated to our relative's house, which was 20km distance from the power plants. About 20 people, including my family had already gathered there, but at 3.36pm, a hydrogen explosion happened at the power plant and we were ordered to leave there too.
In the second evacuation, we went to an acquaintance's house which was further away from the power plant. It was the toughest time for us to be there, as we had to live with people who we had never seen before. I felt uncomfortable, neither taking a bath nor using my cellphone, but I knew I shouldn't complain. "There is no help for me, everyone is the same": all I could do was telling me those words again and again.
There were many evacuation centers in the area, and the hope that I maybe would see some friends there, brought me to the shelters, but I ended up regretting having gone there. The gymnasiums and classrooms were very crowded with a lot of people and the toilets were so dirty. I felt even the same evacuees, the people who stayed in our acquaintances house like me, were only like onlookers, or strangers. At the entrance to the school buildings there were many bulletin boards which said the name lists of the people who were in the shelter and a number of people who were searching the names of their families and friends. Since the disaster happened in the day time on a week day, there seemed to have been many people who had escaped individually from where they worked and their houses then lost their family members.
After a while, we evacuated to our cousin's house in Ibaragi Prefecture, having left our grandparents, who didn't want to leave Fukushima, behind. As we were suffering from a severe shortage of gasoline at the time, we ran out of gas on the way there. We had to sleep in the car that night. We managed to arrive, taking and changing trains, which had just started running again that day. At our cousin's house, we could get back to a kind of normal, thinking the hard days before were a lie; it felt like a different life.
In Fukushima there were few stores open, so we had to drive a long way to get food with little gasoline. But we reached a place where all the shops in the neighborhood were open and it was the first time for me to know my friends were OK via email. It made us relieved and glad, however, I also felt guilty that only I was able to have an ordinary life, thinking about the friends of mine who were still in the shelter, and our grandparents in Fukushima.
Later we came to my uncle's house in Saitama, as we knew we probably wouldn't be able to return to Fukushima immediately. Of course, I began to look for a high school seeing as I would be living here for a while. It was much harder than I expected to find a school. Although I knew I had to go to school, it made me realize I wouldn't be going back to Fukushima for a long time. I had another reason why I wanted to put off the decision, and that was that the High School I studied at in Fukushima was one I had chosen myself and got accepted to through hard work. I loved it very much because I had studied for a year. The school I was going to transfer too was also very competitive to get into and I was so afraid that students in that school wouldn't welcome me, seeing as I was starting at the beginning of second grade. However, they accepted me very kindly and I was relieved. I expected to be asked a lot of questions about the earthquake and tsunami and nuclear power plant, but I was surprised that nobody asked me about these things at all. I found that the other students took good care of me but I wouldn't feel uncomfortable about being asked lots of questions about the earthquake, rather, I hoped they would know much more about it.
It has been nine months since the earthquake occurred. I never thought I would be separated from my friends who I had been to high school with for a year and other friends who I had studied with at Junior High School. I feel very sad that I will never see some of them again.
I have often thought that all this is the fault of the nuclear power plant; that I'm unable to see my friends, that I must be worried about the future, that I have to begin from nothing in an unfamiliar place. I'm always anxious. Fukushima is recovering much more slowly than other areas hit by the disaster and I haven't been able to go back to my house even once to get my things. Without the nuclear power plants, nothing would have changed in my life. However, I don't feel like nuclear power caused all the accidents and trouble. Certainly, we have lost many things because of the nuclear power, but they have contributed to people a lot before the disaster. Towns and villages around the power plants owe a lot to nuclear power plants. It is honorable to get a job in the Tokyo Electric Power Company and I know many people who are still eager to work for the company. At this moment, some of my friend's fathers are still helping reconstruct the devastated buildings at the power plant. If it wasn't for the power plants, most of us couldn't have enjoyed the lives we had.
Now that I am apart from Fukushima, I can see that Fukushima is extremely precious for me. Fukushima is now famous all over the world, but I regret it became well known because of the disaster. Though Fukushima is rural, we have rich nature and many delicious foods. I don't want to see our traditional events and local culture stop because of the earthquake. I hope that someday Fukushima will become a place which attracts people from all over the world, although this is impossible in the short term. If I can do something to help this, I will cooperate with it and I will do my best until the day when my dream comes true.
At Saitama Prefectural Kumagaya Nishi High School
From Fukushima Prefectural Haracho High School on April 1st 2011
Olga Timofeeva
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namie, suzuki, letter
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