On Sunday, I reported from Niigata, where on the surface at least, people seemed to be getting on with their lives as normal despite events elsewhere rocking the country.
This morning, we organized our route, based on the route map we had and reports from friends and colleagues.
We stocked up on supplies, including bottles of water, fruit and packaged food as we'd heard that these are scarce — or simply unavailable — in Sendai, which is the tsunami-affected area we are heading to. We also left with a tank full of gas, as we were told this was also in very short supply.
On the first leg of our journey up the west coast from Niigata, at around 4 pm, we heard a warning on NHK radio that there was an imminent threat of an aftershock of magnitude 7.0 or greater.
We didn’t feel anything for what felt like a long time and wondered whether the warning had been a false alarm. However, we soon heard that there had been an aftershock of about magnitude 5 centered in Fukushima. This seemed about par for the course recently until we heard warnings that a three-metre tsunami had been spotted off the coast of Miyagi.
This ended up being a false alarm — an 'after wave' rather than a tsunami — and we continued onward through the mountains of Niigata toward Yamagata Prefecture. As we drove along the windy snow-covered hills, there was more traffic on the roads than I’d expected.
We stopped to use the rest stop about halfway between Niigata and Yamagata, and saw some emergency power company rescue vehicles parked next to us. They were headed back from the affected areas, and we took that as another sign that we were probably on the best route to the affected areas.
We tried not to pay too much attention to the constant, often conflicting, reports coming in about the three nuclear reactors in Fukushima that have been severely damaged by the earthquake.
We reached Yamagata city at around 8 pm, and as we drove into the centre of the city around Yamagata station, the whole area seemed oddly quiet and dark. All three of the hotels we went to were full. We continued searching for somewhere to sleep, but heard an announcement on the local radio station that in fact every hotel in the prefecture was at maximum capacity as people fled the worst affected areas.
Tonight we’ll have to camp out in the car, and will head out first thing tomorrow morning toward Sendai (I’m writing this in the lobby of a business hotel, where there are no rooms available, but there’s free wireless access).
I’ll update again on the situation in Sendai as soon as I’m able.