Coker Alum Experiences Earthquake in Japan

For more information, contact Ashley Simatic - 843.383.8018

A 1998 Coker alumna living in Misawa, Japan, recently shared her firsthand account of the natural disaster and nuclear concerns engulfing the country. Read about the recent events from her perspective:

Mirah White Welday’s Letter - March 15, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

In an effort to communicate with everyone who has expressed concerns and offered prayers since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant explosions here in Japan, I am writing this letter, sending it via email and posting it as a ‘note’ on Facebook. Please accept my apologies for simply not being able to reply individually to every comment and email. In an effort to conserve electricity, I am only using my computer for limited periods of time and sending one mass email and post was the most efficient way to communicate with you.

First, Kurt and I are safe. Kurt has been in Atsugi (near Tokyo) for work since Sunday, March 6, so he was there at the time of the earthquake on Friday, March 11, and I was here in Misawa.  On Wednesday, March 9, we experienced a 7.2 earthquake.  We experienced no damages as a result of this quake, and I was able to email and post on my facebook that we were ok.  I was emotionally and physically very shaken and remained nervous and on edge until the 9.0 earthquake on Friday, March 11.  We received several aftershocks Wednesday and Thursday leading up to the major earthquake on Friday.

On Friday, I was in the apartment (we live on the 7th floor of a tower complex) when the earthquake happened. I was first alerted there was something wrong when I saw Sunny (my cat) acting erratically. As soon as I saw him, I had a feeling of the floor ‘drop out’ from under me and immediately the shaking started. I have never experienced anything like that earthquake. The shaking, rumbling and swaying was the scariest experience of my life. Pictures sitting on any surface fell over, books were pushed to the very fronts or far backs of the bookshelves depending on the side of the apartment they were on, the tv entertainment cabinet was pushed back to the corner, lamps fell off tables, and water went everywhere from the fish tank (that I never filled up again after the quake on Wednesday). As soon as the shaking stopped, I was so lucky to have two on-base friends call to check on me (our internal base phone lines were working at that point), and my neighbor rushed over to see how I was. There was an aftershock quickly after that was very strong, and after that my neighbor and I evacuated downstairs with her baby and my kitties and we waited for more information or aftershocks.  Within an hour the aftershocks had lessened in strength so we returned to our apartments. Soon after, Kurt’s Command was calling to locate everyone and they made contact with me. About 30 minutes after the earthquake tsunami warnings were issued and alarms were made on the Misawa City intercom throughout the afternoon and evening until the tsunami arrived here that evening. I had no way of knowing how severe the tsunami had been. On Friday, we lost power, almost all cell phone usage and landline phone usage.  Thankfully we only lost our water intermittently throughout this series of incidents and our water on base was potable. Also, I believe the strict building codes in Japan saved thousands of lives on Friday. We were shaken badly but received no structural damage.

On Saturday morning, I removed everything from the refrigerator and put it put on my balcony in an effort to save most of my cold food so I would have things to eat before I started on my nonperishable food items. That afternoon I was finally able to talk to Kurt via cell phone and was so relieved to hear his voice. He was doing fine and helping from Atsugi to get aircraft moved in order to help with disaster relief. However, cell phone usage was still not reliable and, more often than not, signals were not available. My neighbors and I helped and supported one another throughout the day. At this point, we had no idea to the true extent to the disaster. Rumors were swirling but we did not know what to believe.

On Sunday morning, a neighbor from downstairs brought us some ice so I was able to keep things in the freezer cold enough not to spoil.  That day for lunch I was able to use our grill to make lunch for me and my neighbor.  I am so thankful that there was propane in the grill.  That afternoon while I was out looking for more ice (which there was none) the power was restored to our tower.  We have since been asked to conserve energy.  No lights during the day, minimal appliance use (my neighbor and I have been eating together to combine our food and minimize our stove/oven use), 5 minute showers, limit toilet flushing, etc.  I’ve been using one lamp at night. They have not announced it, but I expect they may begin rolling blackouts to conserve energy like some areas south of us are doing.

On Sunday afternoon, I was also able to make contact with my Japanese friends living off base. They were all physically ok but one is still waiting to hear from family members in Iwate and Sendai. She said properties belonging to her family were completely swept away. Another friend said her son’s school was destroyed. Speaking with them and being able to watch the news once the power was restored is when the extent of the disaster really hit me. Kurt hadn’t really expressed to me the extent of the damages in an effort to keep me calm while we were still without power or communication, which was the right decision. The events of Friday really upset me, and I was very emotional. I don’t think I was able to deal with the reality of the situation at that time. I cannot imagine the horror and fear other people experienced that day.

Monday morning our phone service was restored although only a few lines were available for calls to the States. I was able to talk to my parents and a friend. Kurt had already sent emails to his mom and dad from Atsugi.  Also on Monday, the commissary was open so I got a few more nonperishable items and some things for my Japanese friend off base. Supplies off base are very limited. Tuesday afternoon the internet was restored to the North Area of base (where we live).

Misawa Air Base is operational but not fully functional. We get our power from Misawa City, and right now they are only giving us enough for the residential areas. All other places (gas station, hospital, etc) are being run by generators. Other bases in the area that do not have power issues are sending us generators. The military has already started Operation Tomogachi, relief efforts for our Japanese communities.  We had a collection drive Monday for a few hours for food, clothing, blankets, etc., and they collected so many items they postponed the collection until further notice. I have collected items from here but now must wait to donate them. They have to give out what has been collected in order to make room for more. I am proud to be a part of a base that has acted so quickly. Misawa AB is also serving as a hub for relief teams (like the Red Cross). They arrive here and then travel to other areas to aid in relief efforts.

On another note, Yokota Air Base received 11 international flights that were bound for Tokyo Narita International Airport on Friday.  They had food, blankets, shelter, translators, etc., available for all of the passengers. They even had check-in stations so they could account for everyone and provide phone calls for them to call their loved ones around the world to let them know they were ok. All this was planned within hours of the quake. Also, many US Navy ships came to the area, including the carrier Ronald Reagan, to help with relief.

In regards to the nuclear concerns, Misawa is approximately 230 miles from the Fukushima plants, and they are announcing that we are in no danger so far north of the plants.  They are monitoring the issue and keeping us updated. I am confident that the military will do all it can to warn and protect us. In all honesty, I think a US military base is the safest possible location for us right now. We are blessed beyond my comprehension.

Slowly, transportation throughout the country is being restored. We hope Kurt will be able to return via plane to Misawa on Thursday as planned. We are still experiencing aftershocks, and we’ve been told that they will most likely continue with some regularity for about a year. They are unsettling but nothing close to the strength, so far, as the quake on Friday. It is almost unfathomable to me that the magnitude of that earthquake moved the entire country of Japan and even tilted Earth on its axis. The fact that we are not all in grave danger is indeed a blessing from God. I cannot thank you all enough for your thoughts and prayers.

I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support via email and facebook.  Even though Kurt and I are ok, I beg you to keep praying. Japan has been our home for over two years and the country and the people have been so good to us, so welcoming, so accepting. I am truly heartbroken that they are experiencing this tragedy. I fear the final numbers of those who are dead or will be permanently declared missing. There is so much heartache and sorrow, and I am so blessed that Kurt and I and our friends made it through this series of disasters physically unharmed. The Japanese are a strong, proud people so I am confident they have the strength to recover from this but the road will be long and hard for them. They are reacting with a calm strength to these disasters and serve as examples to us all of how to deal with crises. They need your prayers and support so much. If you are able, the Red Cross is very active in the relief effort and is providing immediate assistance. Again, thank you for your messages, prayers and thoughts. I will do my best to maintain communication and post updates.

God bless and love to you all,




Dee Pierce
Manager of Resource Development

Peggy Smith
Advancement Officer

Barb Steadman
Secretary of the College

Megan Wainwright
Administrative Assistant

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