We made it across the bridge and kept going until I saw a sign for Route 2. This, when we weren’t in a hurry and on the toll road, was our primary route to Hiroshima from Iwakuni.
At the next stoplight, I asked my connection back home if she knew about the condition of that road. She said she didn’t see anything indicating that it was closed or flooded, but she cautioned that it was starting to rain again, and it was getting dark soon. I told her I had to try. I didn’t come this far to stay in a hotel for the night, never knowing if I could’ve made it the extra hour down the road to home.
After a day like this, we needed home.
Already knowing what I wanted to do, I text my husband at the next light. His response: “Keep going!”
Route 2 was just as it always was, not at all indicative of the scene on the other side of Hiroshima. Passing each familiar checkpoint on the route was a tiny victory acknowledged with muted celebration so as not to wake my kids who were asleep again in the backseat. I wished so desperately that they had slept through the horrific events we’d left in the rearview — the house sliding into the river, the unscheduled pause on the road while stretchers covered in blue sheets were lifted into an ambulance, the ambulance that made a leisurely reverse onto the narrow road and passed us without siren or flashing lights.
We made it home that night by 6:40 p.m., roughly seven hours after our original projection, over nine hours after we left the airport, over 27 hours since we departed Honolulu. I’ve fished in the days that followed to gather as much information as I can from my kids. What did they really see? What did they understand? But, I leave these conversations even more curious about the pictures in their minds. I barely comprehend what I saw. Those emotions are numb, and there is a numbness inside my kids too.
There is something therapeutic in reacting. Donating water and cleaning supplies helped me heal, although I know the cartful of supplies was quickly exhausted in a mess that size. Digging an elderly man’s house out from underneath a landslide helped me make peace with that flood. Typing this out was therapy. It was stream of consciousness. There is a very real possibility I will never read it. There is a very real possibility no one will — I could just delete it now and be done with it, like it never really existed, any of it. But, somewhere in this collection of 6,200-some-odd words is a message — a purpose. And, I think that purpose, aside from stabilizing my own emotional state — is to pass on the survival instincts that kicked in when all logic determined that I was far too fatigued to make rational decisions.
I don’t have any disaster training beyond a few video courses required to volunteer with the American Red Cross, and even then, those were recovery videos, not survival tutorials. I’ve never truly felt like I had to survive a situation, but as fate would have it, that’s how I spent July 7, 2018. These were the simple goals and logic that eventually got us home that night. Maybe they will show that I watch far too much Grey’s Anatomy or that there is a badass survivor somewhere in my J. Crew-covered 5’2” frame. Maybe, just maybe, it will give you something you can tuck away in the back corner of your brain and use when faced with your own tale of survival.
- Get as far away from the rivers as possible.
- Drive as close to the center or the road as possible to get maximum reaction time for landslides on one side, sinkholes on the other, and the deeper water at the edges of the road.
- Gas up early and as often as necessary. Gas can run out.
- Don’t neglect basic health needs (bathroom stops, water, food), even if your body isn’t signaling for any of them.
- Mind your phone battery. Always keep a charger in your car.
- Brief your kids. Keep instructions simple and your tone of voice as calm as possible.
- Think critically about routes. Roads to the hospital will be cleared before rural back roads.
- Set short-term checkpoints. Stop, reroute from there to avoid getting too deep into a winding route.
- Follow the leader, but leave plenty of room for reaction time. Even in a place where you can’t read the signs or speak the language, cars in front of you likely can. Had I not followed a couple cars around the barricade blocking a mountain road, we might never have made it.
- Share your location every chance you get. Someone, somewhere needs to know where to start looking for you if you get in trouble.
- Trust your gut when the GPS fails you.
Photo Credits: Unsplash | Associated Press