KAZUMI SAEKI in The New York Times:
WHEN the earthquake struck, I was at the hot springs in Sakunami, about 15 miles from my home in Sendai. I was playing host to a couple from Britain, and as I soaked in an open-air bath with Ben, the husband, powdery snow began to shake off the surrounding boulders. The next moment, small pieces of broken stone came tumbling down. “It’s an earthquake, a big one,” I said, urging Ben on to the changing room next door. Without bothering to dry off, I pulled on my bathrobe. As I struggled to keep my legs from buckling and tied my sash with trembling hands, I was struck by the terrifying realization that the great earthquake off Miyagi Prefecture, predicted for so long, had at last arrived. The fierce rolling of the earth lasted longer than I had ever experienced. As I learned later, this was not just the predicted earthquake. It was a giant quake in the waters off Miyagi; off the Sanriku coast in Iwate Prefecture to the north; off Fukushima Prefecture to the south. It lasted six minutes. I heard screams from the women’s changing room and eventually Ben’s wife, Liz, appeared, supported by my wife. Earthquakes are rare in Britain, and I could see plainly Liz’s great shock at experiencing one.
Public transportation back to Sendai, the big city closest to the epicenter, had stopped running, cellphones were not working and all flow of information had ceased. The inn kindly let us spend the night, and the following day a young tourist from Tokyo drove us in his rental car back to Sendai. The roads were torn apart and blocked at points by collapsed inns. The windows of larger buildings were smashed and the tile roofs of houses had crumbled to the ground, while old concrete-block walls were reduced to rubble. Scenes of disaster appeared before my eyes, but in all honesty, I felt the scale of destruction was rather small. When I reached my home, on high ground, the lock on the front door was broken and the floor was covered with books, CDs and plates that had fallen from the shelves. But everything was dry, and there was nothing to alter my perception of the scope of the disaster.