Kathy Anderson
The 9.0 earthquake that devastated Japan left two Tooele Army Depot employees stranded at the Narita International Airport. Chuck Holland and Gary Holbrook, civilian employees from the Tooele Army Depot (TEAD), Ammunition Equipment and Manufacturing Directorate, were stranded at the Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, for over 24 nerve-racking hours waiting for an airplane back to the United States. Holland, equipment specialist, and Holbrook, general engineer, were in Japan on temporary travel orders from Feb. 25 to Mar. 12 to analyze problems the Japanese were experiencing with the Deactivation Furnace that TEAD designed and installed for the 83rd Ordnance Corps (U.S. Army owned, Japanese operated) in 2000. Holland and Holbrook felt the quake while waiting for their airplane at the Tokyo\'s Narita International Airport. "It took us approximately five hours to travel the 422 miles on the bullet train, going through several tunnels to get from Hiroshima to Tokyo," said Holbrook. "It was around 1:30 p.m. Japan Standard Time (JST) when we arrived at the airport and checked in our bags and at approximately 2:45 p.m. JST, the first tremors of the earthquake hit." Flights were canceled after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck near the coastal city of Sendai in northeast Japan on Thursday, Mar. 11. At that time, Holbrook didn't feel that the shaking was any cause for concern. "I have been in Japan before during an earthquake and I didn't feel like this was as bad as the others," Holbrook stated. Security guards began ushering approximately 13,000 people out of the airport onto the cement tarmac next to the airplane, where they believed it to be safe. "The thing I thought was so interesting was there wasn't a lot of panic. Sure people were scared but there wasn't panic and the Japanese airport staff really took control of the situation and kept things pretty calm," stated Holland. "I thought they handled the situation pretty well." "We stood outside for about five hours in 40-degree temperatures waiting for the inspection of the building to be completed and deemed to be safe to reenter," Holbrook said. "It seemed two or three minutes, but might have been longer for the first aftershock. Then every five or ten minutes the earth would shake, your foot would move up then down, then the other foot would move up then down, with each tremor." "I don't know, maybe I should have been more panicked, but I felt like if the building was still standing, I was still alive, it couldn't be that bad," Holbrook said. It wasn't until they returned back inside the airport that they saw actual footage of the destruction from both the earthquake and the tsunami. That's when the severity of the event really hit them. Once the airport staff started letting people back inside the building, they were allowed to go to their terminal and wait for the airplane or any word about a scheduled departure time. Airport staff began handing people blankets, bottled water and some food. Some were even given the airplane meals that were available but there wasn't enough to go around. "Blankets were the big demand, everyone was starting to get cold," Holbrook said. "My heart went out to those people sitting in the airport watching all the TV footage of their towns and homes totally destroyed, not even knowing if they had family or friends in danger," Holbrook said. Right after the earthquake, all the phone lines went down; they were congested for several hours. Holland and Holbrook were able to get word to their families, via test messaging. "After sending several text messages, I finally received a reply back from my daughter, but it was several hours later," Holland said. It wasn't until the next day that they were able to place a call to their families and work to let them know they were safe and would be home soon. "I felt like there was something I should be doing to help these people," Holland said. "I am a volunteer with the Tooele County, Search and Rescue, and I wanted to do something, I just wasn't sure where to start." Twenty four hours later, their airplane departed the Narita International Airport, heading home to Utah. TEAD will have future opportunities to return to Japan for rework on the Deactivation Furnace. Both Holbrook and Holland stated they would not have a problem returning to Japan.

Page last updated Wed September 28th, 2011 at 08:54