Local pilot has moving experience
Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 6:39 am
By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
“Dang it … the curtains and closet doors are moving again.”
FedEx pilot Jerry Allen, a resident of this area, made the unsettling observation while completing e-mail communication to friends and family in this area Monday night. He was writing from his 10th floor hotel room in Narita, Japan, where he explained that an after-shock of 5.2 magnitude was responsible for the movement of items in his room. It was the fourth such event of the evening. He added that, earlier in the day, there had been a 4.9 shake-up, as well.
The communication followed e-mail sent March 17 in the early morning hours — six days after a massive earthquake rocked Japan.
Allen was in Japan on what should have been a routine flight. He frequently follows overseas routes for FedEx and had “bid” the trip to Japan in February. He never anticipated flying into an earthquake-devastated country.
The city he e-mailed from is the location of Narita International Airport, which serves the Greater Tokyo area and is located about 36 miles east of Tokyo Station. This busiest-of-all Japanese air freight hubs is in the Chiba Prefecture and is located almost 120 miles from the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor, where damage was extensive following the massive earthquake. External power had been reconnected to all six reactors at that site on Wednesday when new earthquakes of magnitude 6 struck the area and caused crews working at the site to leave abruptly. Officials later said no new damage had occurred.
Allen, who flew from Memphis to Anchorage March 13, then went on to Narita and from there to Shanghai in China and back to Narita, was scheduled to leave the area and head for Osaka, Japan, after his most recent e-mail.
In Narita, the pilot reported food and drink were readily available at his hotel earlier this week, but the shelves of convenience stores he was familiar with were mostly empty. He described the behavior of the citizens as “normal” to outward appearances and urged friends in the U.S. not to take TV reporting at face value and to keep in mind that the behavior of the Japanese people was very much in keeping with their culture — which differs markedly from the unique blend of cultures in this country.
From what he could observe, he said, things were “organized, peaceful and calm.” He noted that there were people on the streets with canisters offering disaster relief, however.
From his vantage point, no tsunami damage was visible and radiation levels were normal. A few cracks were visible in the walls of the Narita airport, but the level of crowds in the terminal was completely normal and unlike the scenes being shown on CNN at the time.
Rolling blackouts were scheduled throughout the area, but they might or might not actually occur, so Allen wrote that he had considered the option of eating dinner in the hotel’s restaurant on the first floor but had decided not to trust elevators that might become acessible only with difficulty at best and might be dangerous at worst. He also knew better than to rely on lights staying on in his room. The choice was between spending the night in the lobby of the hotel or hoping for more peaceful rest in a 10th-story hotel room with its own challenges. Nevertheless, on the night in Narita when he was communicating back home, he had opted to remain in his room and try to read. Fatigue took over, and he wrote that he had eventually napped.
In the pitch black darkness, he was awakened by the bed moving and the sounds of pipes shifting in the walls and curtains sweeping against the windows, but it was impossible to see well enough to assess the damage or to check conditions out on the TV or by computer, so he simply rolled over and went back to sleep. Before he was awakened again at 2 a.m., when lights suddenly came back on, there were two more bed-moving events, but the hotel that had withstood a 9.0 earthquake took the new shake-ups in stride, as well, he reported.
Once Allen reached Osaka — 285 miles southwest of Narita — he found the population pretty much untouched by events that had affected their neighbors to the north and the coastline to the east so dramatically. He made this report by phone with The Messenger staff:
“It’s the same way it would be if an earthquake struck Fulton. People in Lexington (Ky.) wouldn’t really be affected by what was going on for people in Fulton,” he noted.
Allen says the earthquake caused changes in the type goods he was ferrying in to the Narita Airport, although he couldn’t say precisely what was in the crates and packages, but it didn’t affect actual flight schedules very much. “FedEx planes have to keep going around the world. They can’t be allowed to stack up, so we keep moving. I believe we’re bringing in relief supplies and we’re definitely protecting ‘gates’ around the world.”
In essence, crews like Allen’s kept to the same flight schedule they had “bid” on some time before, but their cargoes changed. Japanese distribution efforts for his typical loads was disrupted by the disaster, but he and other pilots were still faced with the necessity of moving the planes in and out again in usual fashion to avoid having planes and crews “bunch up” in one spot.
From his 10th floor hotel perspective in Narita, his bird’s eye view from the cockpit of his plane and his experience on the streets of a couple of Japan’s major airport cities, Allen formulated some thoughts about his home turf — which is also located in an earthquake-prone zone.
“Please attend (the upcoming earthquake program Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Fulton First United Methodist Church) if you can. You might learn something life-saving. I once looked kind of crazy purchasing radiation detection stuff, but now I have a bunch of BFFs hanging close to my radiation detection device,” he noted.
“The lesson here is, if you need something to prepare you for a New Madrid earthquake event, get it now. When you need it, you won’t be able to get it.”
In a later e-mail he noted, “Organize your friends and family into a ‘stew’ of talents and personalities which are needed to survive a natural disaster.” Allen’s definition of the best stew is one that includes a diversity of talents and abilities and approaches to problem-solving.
After all, an earth-moving experience could happen here — right in the globe-circling pilot’s back yard — next.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at glendacaudle @ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 3.25.11