Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 27 –

An Epic NovelSeptember 30 —

Swerving through wind-swept waves, the rescue vessel, Akai Maru, raced toward Oshima Island. At the bow, Carol stared at the horizon and caught the dank smell of salt and seaweed. Researching for another article, Eileen had come along. Together with Jason, they teamed up with their Japanese colleagues for this rescue operation. Each in a survival vest, they huddled close to one another, all getting more antsy and muttering anxiously as news from the radio came through that another quake had struck at sea: 9.2 on the Richter scale.

Since arriving in Tokyo, Carol had witnessed more distressing weather patterns over the past weeks. As a member of International Rescue Corps on one mission to northern Honshu, she witnessed acres and acres of farmland inundated when seawater surged further inland. She remembered the dead that scattered everywhere, both human and animal, their bulging eyes, and filled with the horror of their last seconds. Those who survived had nothing. Similar scenes were repeated in Kushiro in eastern Hokkaido, Nokamura on Shikoku Island and Minamata on Kyushu Island.

Has the planet gone mad? Carol wondered.

On deck, she spun around. Her heart hammered, knowing that some of these waves would find their way to the main island of Honshu and that destruction would follow.

Beyond the ominous gray clouds, precipitous cliffs gave way to deep ravines cloaked in rich green vegetation. When the mist cleared, a thatched village nestled in the shadow of a rocky bluff appeared.

Carol gasped when she spotted the struggling inhabitants. “Shit! I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Mother Earth is displaying her wrath . . . ” Eileen replied, her voice swallowed by the wind.

With gusts raking the island, the water shook in an uproar as if roiled by some kind of titanic engines below. Mighty waves rose like ethereal claws, crashing on the cliffs near shoreline. So much vapor in the air, and so much air in the water, it became impossible to see where the atmosphere stopped and the sea began.

Thud, thud, thud! Hailstones hit the roof of the bridge—the sound of a hundred golf balls striking a tin surface. Another rumble of thunder heralded a sudden break in the storm, and a downpour smashed onto the roof of the vessel.

The tsunami struck, breaching the surface of the sea with an ominous hiss. Tearing through the crest of the oncoming waves, the momentum ripped everything away like cotton fluffs from a futon. Carol held on to the railing when custard-thick spume splattered against the vessel’s armored glass. Black, sleek, and lethal, it came. Beer cans and pieces of Styrofoam rose and fell, mingling with diesel fuel that undulated on the seascape.

The tempest turned more violent as the vessel approached the island. Each wave resembled a miniature volcano, roaring in a foamless mass, spraying flume everywhere. All along the shoreline, raging and howling wind continued. Immense waterspouts rose into the air and punctured the sea. So turbulent was the rainstorm the skipper had to reduce speed to two knots.

Against the hillside, rain streaked whenever the wind gusted, turning the scene into a sea of swirling spume. Cyclones emerged from over the mountain and swept across the landscape. But for twenty minutes, the rescue vessel plowed on, battling to enter a bay sheltering the harbor. Finally, it dropped anchor and docked at the pier of a narrow inlet, giving the rescuers much needed hope.

Carol and Eileen jumped out of Akai Maru along with the team to join an army of villagers piling boulders in a desperate effort to hold back the incoming waves. With another clash, a new deluge poured upon the roofs of hillside dwellings. Underground water and gas pipes were mangled, twisted and exposed in disarray. Carol watched in horror as the rampaging water swept away an entire row of houses, then backflow from the waves carried trees, cars, trucks, buses and other debris out to sea.

People pushed and shoved in blind panic, trying to find safety. Mouths gaping, residents in nightgowns leapt from their houses into the deafening storm, but the roar of nature and sound of wailing sirens overwhelmed their screams.

Carol and her team pulled more residents to the rescue vessel. Strong winds, like avenging demons, picked up hillside houses and hurled them down the slopes, squashing others on their way. The waves converged in a mighty mass of white froth, and angry torrents hurtled into the sea. Faster than any tide, more currents rose like a monster marching up from the sea, sweeping away anything that lay in their path and dragging these back to sea with a vengeance.

Carol squirmed at the ashen faces of more desperate strugglers. An elderly lady had been remarkably poised, but finally her composure cracked.

“I . . . I need help, please,” the woman stammered through chattering lips, pointing to her blistered legs. Tears brimmed in her eyes.

Eileen held out her hands to help. Carol bandaged her leg, using supplies in a medical case.

“Please, I’m not worried about my legs,” the woman cried, hugging and pointing to what looked like a Barbie Doll. “I want her alive! My daughter! I want her alive.”

EILEEN STOOD, NOT certain what to do. “This is only a toy,” she managed to say. “We’ll look for her.”

“I want her back,” the woman cried. “I want her alive.”

The woman explained between sobs that her teenaged daughter had been swept away. Still hugging the doll tightly, she couldn’t stop moaning.

“We’re looking for her. We hope to find her soon,” Eileen said, but she felt any hope would be just an illusion.

The woman’s emotions, deep and uncontrollable, came in waves, crushing her. When she collapsed, Eileen and Jason rushed to help, carrying her on board the vessel.

Nearby, terrified villagers swamped a trawler, which sank. More villagers struggled toward Akai Maru, undeterred by numerous snakes and stinging fire ants, but found themselves swept away by the current.

Avoiding debris that flew across her path, Eileen rushed to help, pulling them onboard. More survivors came, and she dragged them into the vessel. Hillsides slumped into valleys and birds drowned in flight. Blown by intermittent gusts of wind, power lines on poles swayed back and forth. To the right, trees bent low to the breaking point. To the left were rain-drenched hills, some green with shrubs and bushes, sinking steadily under water. So much rain had fallen that the soil liquefied, sinking and carrying of those weak and young.

Back inside Akai Maru, Eileen helped more victims but she failed to hold firmly to a woman at the gangplank. As her hand slipped, she fell and the current washed her away. An agonizing pain shot through Eileen’s heart.

The captain signaled departure. The stern lifted, the bow dropped, and the vessel surfed out of the bay. Most of the villagers couldn’t make it. Some who succeeded in their struggle against the storm were swept away by rushing waves while trying to climb the gangplank to the vessel.

“We’re sinking!” one man cried out.

Since no more could board, Eileen focused her attention to the survivors in her vessel. With one hand gripping the railing, she tended the injured with the other. The situation called for unparalleled strength to care for them as the vessel held on, swaying to the ferocious pulse of the sea. The entire shoreline vanished, as if the ocean had risen out of its bed and inundated the harbors and hills beyond. Everything broken, spread out and submerged. The island had disappeared.

On deck, Eileen stood in awe, realizing that more people still struggled, clinging to flotsam, clinging to dear life. Teetering on aching legs, she closed her eyes—the thought of man existing against such overwhelming odds burned in her mind. Feeling bile pushing up her throat, she opened her eyes. As the image of devastation surrounded her, an article for the Raging Planet would be forthcoming, but what a feat!

“We’re so vulnerable,” Eileen said. “It seems worse than in a dream.”

“No, not a dream,” Carol said, still tending to injuries.

Total despair, total loss. Many wept; others hugged themselves together, crying aloud to drown their sorrows. Longing for some hand-on experience, now Eileen had it. And for a moment, she begged to be taken away, to let it end.

Already overloaded, further rescue would endanger everyone’s lives. Though the storm had waned, its raging sound still roared in her ears, and new images began to play in her mind. Dizzy and nauseous, Eileen felt her pulse thunder in her ears. An inexplicable pain compounded an aching sadness she couldn’t explain.

She grimaced, battling to keep her balance whenever the vessel fishtailed. Yet the sight of the survivors gave her strength. Among those inside the crowded chaos, some stood in silence, some folded their hands in prayer. That sight reignited her hope. Yes, there’s still hope.

Reaching Yokohama, Eileen stopped to catch her breath. The weather changed rapidly. The seas, so immense, so furious before, settled back into a smooth and steady motion.

Although darkness deepened, the lights at the pier came into sight. Purplish blue-colored lightning pierced the night sky. Then there was another flash, and another, lightning up the sky intermittently, dancing from cloud to cloud. Streaks of ash, rock and gases soared upward from far away Mount Fuji, and landed in the very heart of Tokyo.

But an ominous silence loomed between flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder.

©) Joel Huan, author of Over Mount Fuji (available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble)

~ by Joel Huan on December 16, 2009.

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