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At Misawa, 'cold, miserable and scared people'

For several hours after the first quake struck, Misawa Air Base on the Pacific coast of northern Japan was in a blackout.

Just a 30-minute drive from Hachinohe, where a 13-foot tsunami wave pushed boats and debris miles inland, Misawa personnel had scrambled for the high ground, but the water did not come.

Here is a firsthand report phoned in by Stars and Stripes web editor T.D. Flack:

“At 2:40, the buildings on the base began rocking and swaying. At the Torii building, the big building on base that’s home to the Red Cross, people fled to the parking lot.

“Kids were crying; it was a really long shaking — not a super rough ‘up and down’ but a constant swaying. Telephone poles and light poles were swaying and squeaking.

“Water poured out the front door of the pool building — it was bizarre. The quake was so strong that water rushed out of the pool, and out of the front door and down the steps, into the street.

“The base was in the middle of an exercise, and immediately switched to recovery efforts, using the loudspeaker system.

“All power was lost immediately, as were cell phones. No Internet, no cell phones, no communication at all.

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“The off-base emergency system was launched, and emergency announcements were broadcast in English and Japanese.

“Off-base convenience stores, like the 7-Eleven, were jammed as people scrambled to buy water, food and batteries. It’s especially bad, as temperature dropped below freezing, with some snow flurries.

“As of 8 p.m., the base remained almost completely black, save for some buildings with generator back-up. All we can assume is people are hunkering down and bundling up because there’s no heat. It’s brutal.

“There were two big fears: one, that the tsunami would reach far enough inland — two miles — to swamp the base.

“The second was the nuclear power plant Rokkasho. (The Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing facility was being powered by emergency diesel generators. No other unusual events or radiation leaks have been reported.)

“There’s a bunch of cold, miserable and scared people, wrapped in blankets, and waiting for the next aftershock.

As we spoke, Flack was making sure his kids were warm enough; he had moved his whole family into his office for the night, which others in his building had also done.

Then, another wave of aftershocks.

“I gotta go.”

dicksonp@estripes.osd.mil

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