COLORADO SPRINGS, April 17, 2016 — Anyone who has experienced the earth’s shifts can understand the fear and unease the people of Ecuador and Japan are experiencing this week.
On Thursday, 44,000 people were evacuated from their homes on the Japanese island of Kyushu, and nine people lost their lives in a 6.4 quake. On Saturday, a 7.8 earthquake left 238 dead and 1500 injured in Ecuador.
On May 16, 1968, an 8.3 earthquake struck some sixteen miles beneath the surface of northern Honshu, southern Hokkaido, and the sea that divides the two islands.
It struck in the morning as I was standing in the living room of a small wood frame Japanese house. There was no warning sound or movement. It was as though we were standing on top of a platform on ball bearing casters that had been freshly oiled. The ground beneath our feet suddenly moved smoothly, methodically, and surprisingly gently three feet to one side. Just as gently, it stopped. Then it repeated the motion again and again, always continuing its smooth delivery with near mathematical precision.
After its final stop, we stood in one spot as the quake continued and changed direction, now moving vertically up and down in giant figure eights. It felt like being aboard a ship that’s wildly lurching in a storm.
My immediate thought was of drowning, although we were nowhere near water. It wasn’t until the very end that it dawned on us what was happening; one usually thinks of earthquakes as being herky-jerky. We thought perhaps the island might be sinking into the sea; astrologer, Jean Dixon, predicted an island in the Pacific would sink that very year. We speculated the earthquake might set off our volcano, in turn triggering the island to lose its bearings and fulfill Dixon’s prediction.
Fortunately, there was limited damage on Hokkaido. Some rail lines were twisted out of shape, and half of a road disappeared from view in Aomori, Honshu at the quake’s epicenter. There also were discernible cracks in roads and cement structures around our town of Chitose in Hokkaido.
On the U.S. Hokkaido military post, Kuma Station, it was reported that there was a rush of enlisted men running from their barracks, stark naked! One poor man had just undergone dental surgery at the post hospital and was walking back to his room when the quake hit. He thought it must be him and that he was dying.
In the ensuing months, many soldiers requested reassignment to Vietnam, so great was their unease at living aboard a shifting earth’s crust. Their explanation: “At least if someone’s shooting at me, I can shoot back!”
When a mega-quake such as the 1968 quake in Honshu/Hokkaido occurs, what is most upsetting are the many aftershocks. The ground continues to shift around for months afterwards after the initial quake. One night, as a test, I went outside onto our dirt neighborhood road and laid down in the middle of the road in my nightgown. I tried to relax and feel the earth beneath me. And my worst suspicions were confirmed as the ground gently shifted back and forth against my spine.
Three months later, I left the island and returned stateside. Still rattled and jumpy, I boarded the big jet for the short one hour flight to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport. Unfortunately, the airspace between Hokkaido and Honshu is known by travelers for its predictable turbulence. The bumpy ride provided a perfect thematic ending to the terrible earthquake weeks spent on Hokkaido.
On final approach into Tokyo, I recall the Japanese lady who was my seatmate turning to me and asking me, “Do you speak English?” The twin terrors of a devastating earthquake and wildly violent flight forced every word of Japanese from me in a torrent of nervous fear.
The many earthquakes taking place around the world brings back l968, Japan as though it were yesterday. The event itself, outside of all human experience. And the continuation of the fear for months afterwards. Many, of course, lose their lives, their homes, their pets. Tsunamis further expand the tragedy.
May God bless all those living within the earth’s ring of fire. News accounts can’t do justice to the amount of trauma, pain and suffering that take place when the earth shrugs and shifts beneath the flow of human life.