Subject: earthquakes and tsunamis and meltdowns, oh my!

March 17, 2011 Artical by Mike Rusczyk

Special Report (Tokyo Japan: March 15, 2011 5:15:55 AM PDT)
Correspondence with a good friend and his reaction to life in Tokyo during the events unfolding there.

Hello dudes, this is the generic email reply I've been sending to friends who email and ask 'hay man, r u ded?? urthquaker??'

(photo from the Associated Press)

The rest of this mail is a kind of generic message that I am sending to multiple people--too many people and time is short right now.

Today is Tuesday, the earthquake was Friday. Then the insane tsunami, loss of electric power capacity, and things kind of shut down. We started to see life returning to normal in central Tokyo where we are, but then today the nuke plant fuckup got more fucked up (as I've been predicting) and the radiation levels here in Tokyo are 23 times higher than normal, it was announced today.

Now, 23 times normal is still totally safe, according to my newly-minted Internet/Wikipedia-issued Ph.D. in Nuclear Shit That Can Fuck You Up, but if it increased 2300% tomorrow like it did today, then it would be 529 times normal at which point that would start to not be okay (with me).

Emiko and I are already leaving Friday, but we mulled over the idea of rescheduling our flight for tomorrow. Ultimately, though, the rad levels are still low enough (at today's peak levels, staying in Tokyo for 3 days would expose us to about the same amount of radiation we will absorb in the 9-hr flight to California.

I know what the rad levels are, because this is a fully Internet-enabled disaster--some dude is posting a live video feed of his Tokyo-area Geiger counter ( on the Internet:

I ordered this same model of Geiger counter the day after the quake (from Amazon of course, lol) but today the company got in touch to say sorry, they had completely sold out nationwide. So this guy's Internet feed is the next best thing. At the peak today, likely resulting from the wind from the melted-down nuke plant, I was seeing 2 ┬ÁSv (that is 'micro Sieverts') per hour. As I write this, it's back near the normal background radiation level of 0.16.

So that, and both of our huge workloads at work, gave us the confidence to decide to wait until Friday to fly out. Which will be a huge mistake if Tokyo turns super-radioactive in the next two days, because then all flights will be cancelled and we will have to hike out on foot. But we're counting on that not happening.

The quake
I was in the office when it hit, on the first floor. Emiko was on the 17th floor, which is appreciably more exciting. I thought my Japanese coworkers were pussies about it, donning helmets and clambering under desks.

'Piece of cake, I was in SF in '89!' I said to myself, before finding out later that this quake was 900 times stronger than that one, which collapsed part of the Bay Bridge.

We vaguely continued to work, but after the strong aftershocks nobody was really working.

Six people in my office spent the night there, because all trains region-wide were shut down. This caused a huge influx of cars to the roads, resulting in an amazing instantaneous gridlock effect. Walking was faster than driving, by far. So there was no possible way to get anywhere other than walk. You couldn't even bicycle, because the streets and sidewalks were so thick with walkers.

Some people walked 25 miles home. Hotels instantly sold out. Luckily I live only 20 minutes' walk from work, but I had to go to where Emiko was a few miles away to bring her shoes that she could walk in (ever think about how stupid women's clothing really is?), and we decided to make the most of it by eating a nice fancy dinner at a good restaurant that had stayed open, and watching the hordes of people go by.

My house
Then we finally got home.

Now, it's not possible even for me to complain about our house mess, what with all the totally apeshit insane footage of the tsunami I've seen since, but at the time I was annoyed that I had not taken the basic earthquake precautions to secure my TV. Below is the before/after shots of my SOHO work space... the TV did a swan dive off of that stand, but it is a big tough American Westinghouse, so it still works fine with no damage.

And luckily, that 30" monitor is actually clamped to my desk, which saved it.

So in the end the most expensive thing that we lost was a bottle of organic macadamia oil.

before the earthquake after the earthquake

Empty store shelves
We slept well after the long exciting day, and got up the next day and went to buy food. Wow!

Empty shelves are not what you usually find at Japanese convenience stores... but this is how they still are. Where we live in central Tokyo, there is not an actual food shortage, but there's a fresh food shortage... we can buy vegetables, but we don't get to pick what kind. Yesterday they had chrysanthemum leaves and mushrooms, so that is what I bought. In any case, there is no milk, eggs, tofu, or bottled water available anywhere. (But I happened to have 22 liters of bottled water on hand when the quake hit, because I order it by the case from Amazon, so we're OK... we don't have to resort to drinking TAP WATER or anything (the horror!).

(empty shelves) (no water, but there is beer!)

Nobody has any plain water, but there is still plenty of soda and beer.

UPDATE: I just got a mail from Emiko, and she says she was able to source milk, eggs, and chicken breast today. So maybe the food distribution is coming back to normal.

So anyway the bottom line is that we were all fine, the excitement was mostly over (for us--not for the people in the tsunami zones), and we were already back at work and things were mostly normal.

Except for that pesky little multiple-reactor meltdown thing.

That multiple-reactor meltdown thing...
So I am sure you have already seen the news so I don' t have to re-hash it here. Already the worst nuke disaster except for only Chernobyl. This headline really just kind of took vaporized all the 'back-to-normal' vibe for me:


Um, what response can there be to that other than "Fuck!" followed by, "Let's get the fuck out of here!"

So, on Friday, we will. By then we will probably know whether we are facing a massive multi-billion dollar eco-disaster, or a full-blown Grade F Nuclear Epic Fuckup that will destroy a lot of what makes Japan cool.

For example, we pay insane prices for domestic meat and veggies here--like 20x more than say, Chinese crap--and it is worth it. Healthy, fresh, and delicious! And local! But if those reactors can't be cooled (which looks likely), and then melt through the bottoms of their containment structures and through the earth the nuke fairy dust will permeate everything--rain, snow, water, dirt--and will get in the food supply for the whole country. Everything will be suspect.

The area in Fukushima is already ruined for many human lifetimes--and that is now the BEST case scenario. We don't quite know how bad the worst-case scenario is yet, but we know it is real bad.

But, if there is one bright spot shining through this tragic disaster, it has to be this: we never ran out of beer.

Cheers, --Mason


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