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Earthquake proof
Local recalls day of Japanís earthquake, tsunami

by David Fleet

April 13, 2011

Kennoth, Martina and Mariska Campbell at Toyko Disneyland. Photo provided.
At approximately 2 p.m., March 11 Martina Campbell along with 15 members of Edgren High School track team passed through the Japanese eastern port city of Sendai on the Bullet Train—heading south to Tokyo.

At about 3 p.m.—just one hour later—a 124-foot wall of water, following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, raced over the seawalls six miles inland devastating the city. The Japanese National Police Agency has confirmed 13,392 deaths, 4,896 injured, and 15,133 people missing across 18 prefectures, as well as more than 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.

"We were all excited about traveling to our first track meet of the year," said Martina, a 1998 GHS graduate who teaches eighth grade American history and coaches track at Edgren High School on Misawa Air Force Base in northern Japan. "The kids were excited about going to Chili's Restaurant on Yokota AFB outside Toyko."

Martina, along with her husband, Air Force Tech Sgt. Kennoth Campbell, 32, a 1997 GHS graduate, and their 4-year-old daughter, Mariska, live in Misawa, a city in northern Japan about 400 miles north of Toyko. Kennoth is an instructor and crew chief for an F-16 squadron stationed on the base.

"Due to our weather, which is much like mid-Michigan, we have to travel south to play other high schools," she said. "We play other American military bases in Japan."

On Friday, March 11, Martina, along with the track team, left Misawa for a two-night trip to Yokota AFB west of Tokyo and planned to return on Sunday, March 13.

"We had an earthquake on March 9 that registered 7.1," she said. "But before that, it had been a long time since we had one. Sometimes I wake up at night and can sense a quake before it happens. The animals sense it before it happens."

The trip south for the team was going as planned until the early afternoon.

"We had just made our second connection about 3 p.m. on the Toyko city train. About 10 minutes later we stopped really fast," she said. "We thought the train hit a car. I was standing up holding on. I didn't move anywhere, it was not enough to make you move. I remember looking out the window of the train at the tall apartment buildings in Toyko swaying. There was a white car bouncing on the street. Car alarms were going off. We bounced off the track and were sitting on an angle. The quake lasted for a long time—like a minute or more. Then there was aftershock after aftershock—I was nervous and scared, because I was not sure of when it would end."

To compound problems, Martina could not reach Ken back at the Misawa Air Base.

"The Edgren High School athletes were trying to make light of the situation," she said. "I don't know the Japanese language and they don't show emotions, but I could tell they were nervous. We sat there on the train for an hour and had to walk a mile to a train station in northern Tokyo. We tried to use our cell phones, but they did not work. I thought about taking a cab, but I did not have enough money for that. To make matters worse, it was cold—temperatures in the 50s. Finally, my assistant got ahold of Misawa Air Base and they realized we were missing."

Finally, a school bus was sent from Yokota AFB to pick up the team.

"There were massive traffic jams in Tokyo—the driver was a native who knew all the back streets. The earthquake in Yokota was a 4.0 and did not get hit as hard as Misawa, where there was no power," she said. "We stayed in a hotel in Yokota."

The team stayed in Yokota until around 8 p.m. Sunday, March 13, when a C-17 Globemaster III airlift plane took off from Yokota with 45 Edgren students, more than half who traveled from Misawa last week and got caught in the quake.

"During the two weeks after the quake, between March 11 and March 24, we had 500 tremors," she said. "I have to hold up curio cabinets to keep them from falling over and pictures from falling off the walls. You don't get used to the quakes —you expect it to get worse. We keep food and water in our car—we're ready to go every second of the day. If we are home we can't just run outside, we have power lines. We keep emergency plans and prepare to live off camping equipment."

Martina said that the seaport by the city of Misawa was damaged in the quake by waves.

"The wave never came inland far enough to reach us," she said.."But the waves pushed fishing boats inland— some are in the trees. Many of the fields were washed away. None of the military personnel were hurt, but some of the teachers lost homes and farms and are looking for family members. After the quake, supplies came to us from home including batteries and clothes for our daughter. It's nice to know there are people back here supporting us."

Over the course of the last two weeks, the U.S. State Department offered a voluntary departure for the dependents of military servicemembers.

Martina and Mariska arrived back in Michigan on March 24.