Region native describes his experience during earthquake in Japan

2011-03-13T00:00:00Z 2011-03-14T00:36:28Z Region native describes his experience during earthquake in JapanBy Marisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

When the earth first started to rumble, Lansing native Ryan Schaap didn't panic.

Schaap, who teaches English in Japan and lives in the outskirts of northern Tokyo, said the country gets small- and medium-sized earthquakes all the time -- at least one every two weeks. He decided to wait out Friday afternoon's 8.9-magnitude quake in his fourth-story apartment.

But he said he changed his mind when the building started swaying heavily. Items tipped to the floor and his TV, refrigerator and drawers rattled with the tremors.

"It was at that point that I thought, 'This is it, this is how my life ends,'" Schaap wrote in an e-mail from Japan.

The 28-year-old said he ran out the door and down the stairs as fast as he could, taking refuge underneath a doorway.

When the first wave of quakes subsided, Schaap said he and others refused to go back inside. Instead, he headed to the town center, a big open area where he felt safest.

Strong aftershocks rocked the area for the next 24 hours, Schaap said.

Phones were down and trains weren't running, but Schaap said he was able to connect to the Internet from his phone and let friends know he was OK.

"I was absolutely exhausted from the hours of shocks and want to sleep, but was traumatized enough from the constant shaking that so much as a little aftershake (sic) had me getting up and ready to run for the exit," Schaap wrote. "I had my bags ready at the entrance, along with my sleeping bag. I was seriously ready to spend a night in the local park in my sleeping bag. It was a really cold night, but I was definitely scared."

Schaap said he was most impressed by how the Japanese people reacted to the quake.

He said they kept calm and most went right back to work after the first quake, even while the aftershocks continued.

"It seemed like they were doing this out of a sense of duty to their customers," Schaap wrote. "It would have been so much more chaotic if all of the stores stopped selling things and everything else shut down immediately. It wasn't until a few hours later, where the aftershocks proved to be too much and too scary, (that) businesses closed up shop."

Schaap's mother, Carol, who lives with her husband, Glenn, in Lansing, said she found out about the quake from her son, not from the news.

She remembers being confused when the phone rang early Friday and her son said, "I'm OK, mom."

"I'm thinking, why wouldn't he be? Why is he calling me?" Carol Schaap said with a laugh. "I'm grateful that's how I found out. This way I didn't have time to worry."

She said her son is currently trying to decide whether it is safe to stay in his apartment. The walls have cracks that are 5 feet tall.

"Tokyo is such a beautiful, well-kept city," Carol Schaap said. "It must be very hard for them to have their country just so torn apart now because that's one of the things they are most proud of."

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