Surviving Japan's Quake, Shaken But Unbroken

Courtesy of Nate Ingram
Courtesy of Nate Ingram

Nate Ingram, a choral director and vocal coach based in Japan, is happy to be alive. While practicing on his trumpet in his home this past Friday, the 60-year-old Philadelphia native felt the sharp jolts of the 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake that struck just off the coast of northern Japan on March 11. The quake damaged a nuclear power plant and triggered a ferocious tsunami that demolished entire communities and took thousands of lives.

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Ingram, who teaches performing arts at the Tokyo Economic University and hosts an annual music festival, lives in Fukushima City. His home is in the same prefecture as the stricken nuclear power plant and less than an hour's drive south from Sendai, which bore the brunt of the natural disaster.

Though he was unhurt, Ingram says that the earthquake left his home in disarray. Despite the looming nuclear crisis, he has yet to be evacuated from his studio and adjacent apartment. Right now he's focused on the hunt for water in nearby mountain springs and getting gasoline for his car.

"I'm alive," Ingram told The Root in a telephone interview, while he waited behind about 20 cars for gasoline. There were just as many cars behind him. The good thing is, "Everyone is helping each other out," he said. 

In an exclusive interview with The Root, Ingram shares what it was like living through the fourth-largest earthquake in history, as well as how he's coping with the aftermath and the threat of a nuclear meltdown in his prefecture. Check it out below:

The Root: Where were you when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit? What happened?

Nate Ingram: I was in my studio playing my trumpet. The room began shaking, and I said: "OK, somebody doesn't like my playing." Then it shook some more, and I have a really big space.

As the trembling intensified, I changed my tune — sounded a bit soprano. I rushed to hug a support beam in the middle of the floor. You'd have thought that beam was my long-lost lover. My furniture started dancing, and wine glasses flew out everywhere. After the first shock, the people in the clothing factory downstairs were screaming for me to come down.

My stuff is all over the place, but I'm alive.

TR: What went through your mind?

NI: I thought about my two sons, my beautiful boys. I can't even explain what happened here. It was the worst thing I have felt in the 19 years I have been living here. It really put the fear of God in me.

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TR: Did you see the tsunami?

NI: I saw it on CNN. I wasn't worried because, although I am not far from the coast, there are mountains in between.

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TR: How are you doing now? Have you been evacuated from your home?  

NI: I'm still in my studio, and my apartment is next door. I'm trying to stretch my water supply, simply for a few days. This is cold country, so I'm trying to conserve heating fuel. I got up at 5 a.m. today to find water in the mountains. On the way back down, I actually passed a 7-Eleven where a group of people were helping one another fill up their containers with water. Everyone is helping each other out.

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TR: Do you have friends affected by the earthquake and tsunami? How are they doing?

NI: They are in various states and conditions. I have six chorus groups between Tokyo and Sendai. Just about everyone that I teach was shook up pretty bad. I'm praying for all of them. They have been so good to me.

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I'm especially concerned about my chorus members who live in Sendai. One of my biggest chorus groups is based there. Also [concerned] for my chorus members who live in Iwaki, a coastal town just south of Sendai.

TR: You live in the same prefecture — Fukushima — as the nuclear power plant. What is going through your mind regarding the news of explosions at the plant? 

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NI: There is so much on my mind that I don't have time or energy to freak out. The government says there is no threat, but when have you ever experienced an honest government? It was very difficult and very expensive to get the go-ahead to build these power plants. Their failure now would support the position of those who are opposed to building the plants.

TR: What do you want people back home to know?

NI: I would hope that they would pray for comfort and healing for these people, who have been so kind to me and mine.

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TR: Are you thinking about returning to the U.S.?

NI: No. I have six choruses here. This weekend, if they are up to it, I'm going to practice. Life goes on. We have some concerts lined up within the next month. If they are up to it, I'm going to encourage them to keep on going.

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Monee Fields-White is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers a wide array of topics, including business and economic news.

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