Sunday, March 13, 2011

Me and Twitter and the Japanese earthquake

My spouse, H, is from the same general region where the Japanese earthquake struck. Her parents still live in her hometown, Odate (pronounced "Oh-dah-teh").

Although Odate is in the mountains and thus safe from tsunamis, we knew it must have gotten a severe shaking. So we called her mom's house late Thursday night as soon as we heard, and ... nothing.

Phone calls don't connect. No rings, just beeping. We try phoning with Skype: beep-beep-beep only. Other relatives' landlines are the same. We only know a couple of cell numbers, and they don't work either.

So we turn to the internet. But Odate is too small and obscure to be mentioned even in Japanese national news when such spectacular events are taking place elsewhere, and we can find out nothing.

We turn to local websites. The Odate city government website: down. Local newspapers: down or not updated. TV sites: down.

We know that probably everyone is OK. Odate is obviously in no danger from tsunamis. And it seems far enough from the epicenter to escape the worst of the shaking. Probably. But we don't know. And we can't know. There's no way to contact anyone.

I remember Twitter. Does anyone from Odate tweet? I go to Twitter and try a few different things until I hit on the right hashtags: #odate and #oodate.

And I start reading: Power is out. Water is out. It's cold with no heat, but luckily not the dead of winter. "If you use a kerosene stove, be careful of your ventilation." And, from a man at City Hall: "No reports of any injuries or collapsed buildings." We hope that's right. There's nothing else we can do; we go to bed.

Friday, we still can't get through by phone. On Twitter, "Power still out; water still out." But: "Confirmed no injuries or collapsed buildings."

And on through the day: "Power is on in the hospital area." At City Hall. Water back on in a few areas. Power in a few. Reports on which gas stations are open. Where to get food.

Then: "We have power!" "We have water!" Some areas still without power, though. Phones still not working. Power will be back on shortly. No, it will take the rest of the day. We go to bed Friday night still not having talked to anyone.

Early Saturday afternoon, we finally get through by phone. Everyone's fine. They've had a scary 40 hours -- there are still aftershocks -- mostly without power, but everyone's fine.

And I imagine those 40 hours the way they would have been for us even five years ago. I imagine having had no information at all during that time -- not only having no idea how our family was, but not even knowing what general conditions were like in Odate. And I am so, so grateful for Twitter.

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  1. That is so cool, Kuri. I have never used Twitter so it is a mystery to me. I haven't really had any reason to figure it out. Now you've given me one.

    So glad to hear your wife's parents are okay. What an unbelievable catastrophe. It's impossible for me to comprehend the scope of the devastation. My heart goes out to those people.

  2. That is so scary! But I know a few people who used twitter similarly. Twitter reminds me a bit of amateur radio sometimes...but then I worry...Twitter depends on internet, twitter's servers being up.

  3. Hey! My husband is from Odate too!
    Just trying to connect at the moment after last night's aftershock & can't get through - not sure if it's the lines or if the parents in law are already out and about for the day.

  4. Any luck? We tried a little while ago (around 10:00 Japan time) and couldn't get through.


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