As I sit here in a press conference awaiting the latest update on the worsening situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plants, these are the most painful words I have ever had to write.
Firstly, let's get the facts out there in the open. At 2:46pm on March 11, Japan suffered its worst earthquake ever. The quake magnitude was measured at the record level of 9.0, leading to unprecedented tsunami waves sweeping across the Tohoku area 200 miles north of Tokyo.
Complete towns disappeared in an instant as tsunamis towering up to 30 feet high sped across the coastal plains at speeds of up to 100 mph. News programmes are predicting the death toll will rise to 10,000 by the end of the month. It could go much higher.
What has totally monopolised the nation's major TV networks since March 12 however, is the developing crisis and possibility of massive radioactive fallout at the Fukushima nuclear power plants. International media reports have already likened this potential catastrophe to The 3-Mile Island accident and even the Chernobyl disaster.
As a resident of Tokyo, that horrifies me. But my current situation means the instant evacutaion is impossible. Forced to buy tickets at highly inflated rates, colleagues and friends have already started to evacuate Tokyo, heading for places as far away as South America.
When the quake hit, this writer was conducting an interview on the 22nd floor of a skyscraper in central Tokyo. Having worked in Tokyo for 23 years, I have experienced hundreds of quakes over the years. But nothing like this. The building swayed at least 4 feet from side to side as file cabinets and chairs were flung about the room. The movement was so severe that we could not stand.
What shocked everyone in the room was not only the size of the quake but the length of it. Even after the shake finished three minutes later, the building continued to move for several minutes more as it absorbed the full extent of the shake. Elevators shut down immediately meaning that we had to negotiate 22 flights of stairs to exit the building.
All trains and subway lines stopped and the expressways were closed leading to total gridlock and mass exoduses of workers heading home on foot. Mobile phone systems overloaded within minutes meaning that the only sure way to reach loved ones was landlines. It took me two hours to reach my wife, although for some strange reason, my sister in Australia got through to me within half an hour.
Then 24-hours after the initial tragedy, panic buying started. Wanting to stock pile food and drinks for the expected post-quake hardships, people started to bulk buy rice, bread, instant food and drinks. At the same time, the government ordered supplies be sent to the distaster area to aid survivors. That combination has led to empty store shelves across the greater Tokyo region, a scenario not seen since the aftermath of WWII.
Then from Sunday morning, as word got around that gasoline tankers would be redirected to the area as well, motorists raced to their nearest gasoline stands to fill up. As I drove around Tokyo streets on Monday, I was flabbergasted to see cars and trucks 50 deep stuck in queues in front of gasoline stations waiting to fill up.
With the massive disruption to train systems and other lifelines, Japan's car manufacturers also shut down plants and restricted staff attending offices. Toyota and Nissan have closed all plants for this week and require staff to leave offices by 5:30pm when the sun goes down as electricity supply is being restricted heavily.
Although train lines were reopened just before midnight on March 11, all lines are operating on massively reduced schedules to counter the power shortages which also started on Monday morning. In addition, the proposed test drive of the Honda Fit Shuttle has been cancelled and manufacturers are not taking any new press car bookings. And for the first time, carmakers are willing to allow press cars to be returned half filled as drivers are not able to get to fuel stations.
I think I will stop here as my concentration level has dropped to nil having just experienced some more very unnatural building movement in the second earthquake in the space of one hour…