On today’s events in Japan

Melissa Stagnaro

I woke this morning to the sound of rain on my window, and the dull roar of water rushing in the creek which runs adjacent to my house. Even before the last 24 hours’ rainfall and runoff, the normally quiet brook had long since overwhelmed its banks and transformed into a raging river.

I knew without looking that the water would be higher and running faster than the night before, and my mind turned to the flood warnings and watches which had already been issued. I wasn’t concerned about our little creek, since it doesn’t pose a threat to our house, but rather to all those who aren’t so lucky. Particularly those who live in the low-lying areas along the banks of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers.

I wasn’t here to witness the devastation of the floods in 2006 first hand. And based on the first-hand accounts I’ve heard and pictures I’ve seen, I hope Chenango and the surrounding counties never have to endure such a catastrophic event again in my lifetime.

Those thoughts were wiped momentarily from my mind however, when I learned of the events in Japan. It started with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake more than 15 feet below the surface of the earth and 80 miles off the coast of Honshu. The largest quake in the country’s recorded history. Then, as if the damage from the quake itself wasn’t enough, there was the tsunami which followed in its aftermath devastating areas in the Northeast region of the nation. And then a nuclear emergency declared as a result of damage at one of Japan’s nuclear facilities.

The images I’ve seen are surreal. Oil refineries and office buildings in flames. Factories in ruin. Roadways buckled. Houses washed out to sea. Cars and planes tossed around like match sticks.

One of the most haunting photos, though, was one which looked to have been taken on a cell phone: a couple huddling together as they watch the ceiling cave in.

That was the one which made it all real to me. For the true devastation isn’t about buildings and infrastructure (as horrific as that may be) but about the people. Millions of lives changed in an instant, all because of a shift along a fault line deep beneath the Earth’s crust.

All morning I held my breath as I viewed the images coming out of Japan and waiting to see if what havoc the tsunami would wreak on the rest of the world, including Hawaii and the West Coast. I was engrossed in the live video and Twitter feed coming out of Hawaii. (Did you know the Pacific Fleet is on Twitter?) I even briefly tried following the #tsunami trending topic, but it was flying so fast I couldn’t make sense of all the posts, many of which were in other languages.

Interspersed with all of that, I was seeing constant Facebook updates as people confirmed their family and friends in Japan were indeed okay.

But then everything I was seeing and reading seemed to slow to a stop as one Facebook post made this cataclysmic event suddenly very personal. It was my cousin Peggy’s status about her son Sean’s wife Ai, who is from Japan. You see, her family lives in Sendai, the capital of the Miyagi prefecture. While she had heard briefly from her father, there were many others from whom she still has not heard.

Sendai should sound familiar. According to news reports, the tsunami which hit the city’s port was 10 meters high. That’s over 30 feet. Many of the worst images we’ve seen have come from this region – the airport underwater, houses and cars washed out to sea, some of them in flames.

All I can think of is Ai seeing those same pictures, waiting to hear about her family. My whole family shares her pain as we send our thoughts and prayers to her and all those affected by this catastrophic event.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.