Japan-Honolulu Earthquake Journal

One Worry at a Time: With resiliency, love and a lot of text messages, a Hawaii family separated during the Japanese earthquake and tsunami picks its way through the aftermath.


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Houses swallowed by tsunami in Sendai, Japan on March 11.

 AP Photo

When the ground heaved in Japan, it also shook the Schumaker family, rocking the life they had built in Hawaii, yet strengthening the ties between them.

Scott and his wife, Yasue, met in Japan when they were both working at Stars & Stripes. They moved to Hawaii in 1995, and live with their son, Ian, 14, in Kapolei. In mid-January, Yasue returned to her childhood home in Sendai, Japan, to care for her ailing mother. Scott stayed in Hawaii to work (he is president of HONOLULU Magazine’s parent company, PacificBasin Communications) and care for Ian.

Being apart was difficult enough. Then the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit.

Not long after the quake, Scott began writing about his family’s experience at our HONOLULU website. It was, for him, a way to share news with family and friends, and to process what was happening.

 

Thursday, March 10

I’m OK. – 私は大丈夫

Ian and I were spending this night like most others since Yasue had left for Japan. We were alone, together. On one end of the couch, he had on his headphones, listening to music while connecting with friends through Facebook. On the other end, I had on mine, watching Netflix on my iPad.

Suddenly Ian said, “Dad, there was a big quake in Japan. Alex [a friend of his living in Tokyo] said it really rattled Tokyo.”

Only half interested, I responded with, “Hmm. They had a big one just a couple of days ago, too.” I returned to Dexter Season 3 to learn more about blood splatter. Some time went by. Ian worked harder to get my attention. “Dad, it was huge. It was 8.9.”

He had my attention. I asked if he knew where. He said north Japan. “East or west?” I asked. When he said east, my heart sank. Sendai is in northeast Japan. I turned on the TV and was stunned by what I saw. The NHK helicopters were showing the first tsunami wave slamming ashore.

I reached for my phone. Text from Yasue, 8:27 p.m.: Huge earthquake. I’m OK.

She was OK after the quake. But what about the vicious tsunami we just saw? Where was she? Was she still OK? Was she with her mom in Sendai City or at home? I frantically began texting questions.

Nothing. No response at all. I stared at my phone intently, willing it to give me a reply. Some time shortly before midnight, Ian said, “Oh, no, that’s Sendai Airport.”

I looked at the TV as the tsunami overran the airport Ian knew well. Every year, he and Yasue visit Sendai for a month or more. He would spend time with his grandparents. They would play in the parks, fish along the shore, net beetles and cicadas in the cool bamboo forests, hike to shrines. He also knew this tsunami was bad. I knew I couldn’t let him stare at the TV.

“Ian, get on Facebook and tell all your friends in Japan that your mom is in Sendai. She was OK after the quake, but we haven’t heard from her since the tsunami. I will start sending emails and making calls.” It was the beginning of a great new partnership with my son.

 


People react at a bookstore in Sendai when the ceiling came down during the earthquake.

Photo: AP/Kyodo News

Friday, March 11

Yes – はい

I called Yasue’s phone over and over and got nothing. No busy signal. No ring. Just an unsettling empty sound.

Text from Yasue, 12:37 a.m.: Yes.

Never before did one word communicate so much and so little simultaneously. Yes. She was still able to text. I knew she was all right. What I didn’t know was which one of my many questions she was answering.

I replied, Are U with your mom? Are U OK?

For weeks, her mom had been in a hospital in Sendai City, about seven miles from her home. Again, we waited for a reply and there was none. Shortly after 1 a.m., I sent Ian to bed.

Text from Yasue, 3:10 a.m.: Yes. I will walk home tomorrow. It is 10 kilometers. I want to get things, money. Cannot contact neighbors.

Walk home? Who in their right mind would leave a safe building to walk seven miles to a home that might not even be there on a road that might not exist?

I reply, No. Do not walk home. It is not safe. You are in a safe bldg with mom. Stay there. People are fleeing trying to get there. Do NOT leave there.

I left for work knowing that we were far luckier than most. She was safe. She was with her mom. Somehow, we were able to text now and then.

Text 3:25 pm.: Mom is OK. Hospital giving patients emergency food, but no food for me. Stores are closed.

Blessedly, she had shelter. She had water. We needed food. I drove home and told Ian we needed to get his mom some food and we began exploring how we could make that happen.

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