FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

89chap.IIFukushima Medical University Record of Activities [Notes and Messages]FUKUSHIMA: Lives on the LineInside the medical offices on the day of the disasterAt 2:46 pm on March 11, 2011, an undersea earthquake with a 9.0 magnitude rocked the seafloor off the Sanriku Coast, 24 kilometers beneath the surface of the ocean. The Nakadori and Hamadori areas of Fukushima measured a quake of more than six on the JMA scale, while the Aizu area measured just below six. At the time, I was seeing outpatients at Hanawakosei Hospital. I was examining a patient who required an ear procedure. When I first felt the tremors, I instinctively told the patient, “That’s an earthquake. Let’s put the examination on hold.” We immediately left the examination room together and went to the hospital entrance to see what was happening. Things soon calmed down, so we returned to the examination room. The instant I resumed the examination, a piercing sound I had never heard before came from my cell phone. Looking down at it, I saw an emergency earthquake alert flashing, “A strong earthquake has occurred off the coast of Iwate Prefecture. Beware of tsunamis.” Seconds after reading this, the earth shook with a far greater force than that of the previous tremors. Feeling that it was dangerous to be inside the building, an outpatient nurse and I led the patients awaiting their examinations outside of the hospital building. The tremor was enough to make us think, “This is horrible, we might die!” The tremor lasted for five or six minutes, but it felt like it lasted for more than ten minutes. Shortly after losing power, we led the patients to refuge in the first floor lobby of the hospital building, and verified their safety amid the aftershocks. Of course, outpatient examinations were discontinued. It was then that I got an email from Dr. Tani reporting that the medical school offices were a mess, but that all the patients in the building were unharmed. As a senior member of the medical staff, I made the decision to return to the university. It was around 4:30 pm. The highway back to the university was blocked with traffic, so my only option was to take regular roads. Because Route 4 was also jammed, I had to maneuver through the backstreets instead. The road, however, was badly warped, cracked and uneven, with manholes protruding from the ground, and the walls of the surrounding houses had collapsed, as had many older houses. I learned from a TV on the street that there was a problem with the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but the information was unclear at the time, and I did not think it would be as bad as it eventually became. It was after 8:30 pm when I finally made it to the university. Most of the staff were still in the medical school offices, and I was able to breathe a small sigh of relief on hearing that some of the staff had been able to contact those who did not come to work that day. The offices were in such a shambles that you truly had nowhere to step, and the assistant lecturers’ room was a sorry sight. Surprisingly, Dr. Kogawa had already cleaned up the area by the Published in the Fukushima Journal of Otorhinolaryngology, 2011, No. 22 (Oto-Rhino-Laryngological Society of Japan—Fukushima Prefectural Chapter, Fukushima Prefecture Otorhinolaryngologist Association)Experiencing the Great DisasterYasuhiro Tada, Department of Otolaryngology, Fukushima Medical University