Editor’s note: There are quotations in this piece taken directly from text transcripts. Errors in these quotations have not been corrected.
It was about 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, and senior Patrick Cascino was having a normal conversation with his girlfriend, Rino Arai—at least as “normal” as it usually is—over Skype. The two haven’t seen each other for seven months. They met while they were both studying abroad in Germany last year and haven’t seen each other since going home—Cascino to America, and Arai to Japan.
On Skype, Arai told Cascino she was waiting to have lunch with a friend—Italian. It was 2 p.m. on March 11 in the city of Kashiwa, Japan. The city’s 400,000 residents were having a normal Friday afternoon. Arai had just finished classes for the day at Reitaku University. The two said good-bye when Arai’s friend got to the restaurant.
An hour later, Cascino received another Skype message from Arai.
“There’s been an earthquake and it’s very big, the largest one I’ve ever experienced,” Arai wrote. “I’m under the table.”
The wall next to her was shaking—then it had cracked, and a piece of it fell onto their table. That’s when they knew they needed to get under the table for safety
“wow. that sounds scary,” Cascino replied. “I’m really worried, I wouldn’t know what to do in an earthquake I don’t think.”
There was a pool in a floor above them leaking. Arai wrote that there was water coming through the ceiling and through the windows. They had been under the table for 20 minutes while the earth violently shook beneath them.
“is the earthquake still happening?” Cascino asked.
“Yea, it’s still happening. I’m not scared though,” Arai replied.
After the tremors stopped, Arai went outside into the street and called Cascino.
“She showed me this white substance filling the street,” Cascino recalls. “I asked her if it was snow. It was actually bubbles from the pool that had leaked.”
Arai decided to drive home to Sakai, Japan, normally about an hour’s drive away.
“the road is crowded,” she messaged Cascino.
The tremors continued as she drove. Sometimes they got so bad she’d have to pull over and wait for them to stop.
She called Cascino one more time while she was pulled over. She had the radio on; they were talking about the earthquake.
“What are they saying?” asked Cascino.
Arai translated. “They’re talking about the facts. They think this is the largest earthquake Japan’s ever had.”
Arai’s cell phone battery was dying so the two said good-bye once again. “I love you. I promise to call you when I get home,” Arai said.
The drive took Arai twice as long as usual. She texted Cascino when she got home.
“the electricity is out and I can’t charge my phone,” she said. “My cell phone is going to die soon. i love you.”
“i love you too, please be safe,” Cascino responded.
After saying good-bye, Cascino watched cable news coverage of the disaster. The major damage of the earthquake was evident. The aftershocks continued too.
It was almost 4 a.m. and Cascino decided to go to bed.
“I tried to get to sleep but it was very stressful,” he said. “I was very anxious.”
He was able to sleep three hours and then went about his normal Friday routine: working at the ITS Solution Center, followed by a test in his statistics class.
He hadn’t heard from Arai yet. It had been almost 12 hours.
It was reported the wave reached a height of 23-feet, swallowing up residential and commercial areas. “Is the tsunami close to her house?” he wondered anxiously .
“I couldn’t stand not knowing what was happening,” Cascino said.
He tried finding online news about the prefecture—equivalent to our states—Arai lived in. He tried to read Japanese news Web sites, having a friend translate. He got in touch with Arai’s friends in Japan.
None of them were able to get in contact with her.
“I got more and more nervous throughout the day,” Cascino said.
Finally, at around 9 p.m. on Saturday, a new message on Cascino’s Skype account sounded in his room.
“hi. i’m ok.” It was Arai.
She had been with her family in her house waiting for the electricity to come back on the entire time. The tsunami wasn’t near them at all.
Cascino was relieved.
“you are very strong and brave. I love you so much,” Cascino wrote.
Preston Johnson is a technology enthusiast who focuses on writing about new technology, trends, and ethical concerns relating to technology in our modern age.