By 2:48 the continuous shaking had stopped, but we waited outside another ten minutes, just to be sure. Then the three of us ALTs and our soon-to-retire Japanese advisor headed back into the three-storey governmental building we (and dozens of others) had vacated some fifteen minutes earlier, reversing our evacuation route to a cramped room on the top floor, where we reconvened and shortly ended our interrupted quarterly meeting. All we knew at the time was that a massive quake in Tohoku, Japan, had generated an unusually prolonged tremor measuring five in Niigata City, hundreds of kilometers away.
More than two hours would pass before I first learned of the killer tsunami, which by then had already begun devastating coastal communities in northeastern Japan. In the days to come, horror would follow horror, culminating in catastrophic damage to Fukushima Dai-ichi.
Five years on, and the reconstruction of Tohoku has been spotty, to say the least. Thousands remain in temporary housing. Thousands more who lived within the evacuation zone in Fukushima are unable or unwilling to return. And the situation at the nuclear plant is decades away from being completely under control.