Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Lightning Strikes

I have the best excuse for my absence, our house was hit by lightning!

And it's been such a busy, eventful week away, with floods, volunteering, mud, a reggae festival, more mud, lightning, modeling and divination! I have so much to catch up on!

It happened on the 19th: I had just picked up Erica from Aiko kindy, and taken her home. Normally I would take her directly to Keio kindy to catch the afternoon session, but this day I wanted to keep her home so she could take a nap, so she would be happy and energetic enough to do both her swimming and karate lesson in the evening.

When the storm started, the first thing I did was rush around closing all the windows. We've had nearly daily storms in the last few weeks, thunder and lightning has become almost routine. And one thing I know is that the rain is very heavy and strong, and will wet everything inside, eaves or not, so the first line of duty is rushing around getting all the windows closed (in this heat they are, of course, all open). Next I fielded a telephone call from Kanji telling me to close all the windows!

During the previous Saturday's monster storm, when I swore I saw a bolt of lightning hit something in the graveyard next to our house, I had turned off all the electricity. This time I didn't think of it, the daily storms were making me a bit blase perhaps. Our plugs and cords are set up for easy removal, more for power saving and fire safety - for example, the computer, screen and printer were plugged into a power adapter separate from the phone, modem and Wifi station, so those things would not be turned off even if I unplugged everything else. Behind the TV, the stereo and phone shared one cord, the TV and other things shared another. Still, I should have actually unplugged them all, because we lost so much!

So I had gone to finish my lunch (Erica had eaten earlier at kindy) and Erica was also, by a HUGE stroke of good luck, in the kitchen; she was getting ice out of the freezer to munch on at the time. We were listening to the storm, as you do, cringing a little at the loud sound.

No words can describe the shock of seeing lightning in your own house. I saw the flash in the living room from my seat in the kitchen. I instantly knew what it was - disbelief settled in later on, but at the time I had no doubt about what it was. Erica screamed before me. Later she told her story - Mummy's face went red. She didn't see the flash, but she saw my face lit up by it! I screamed too, and of course went to her first, to pick her up and do my best to comfort and calm her, while also trying to think of what I had to do.

Holding her, with her body plastered to mine, hiding her face and motionless, I crept gingerly into the living room. I could see all the power was off, and I could see smoke hanging in the air and could smell it. I think some of that was from my fried egg from lunch... but it was enough to put me on alert at the time. I went over to get my iphone, which was in the middle of a reset, and I hadn't completed the sign-in information. There I was, kid clinging to be in abject terror, diligently pressing 'next' and answering dumb questions about networks, while the storm continued to thunder around us, frightening us more with every rumble. I gave up in disgust, threw it on the sofa and decided we would just have to go round to Kanji's shop in the car.

Another HUGE clap came when we were in the genkan, making Erica AND me scream again, but I had to put her down because I realized I had to check upstairs to make sure there weren't any fires. I didn't relish having to wield a fire extinguisher while the storm continued with Erica down by the door crying and screaming, but if I had to do it, I would!

There was nothing though, so we were safe to escape, and I really wanted to get out of there! It just felt unsafe, like the whole house was electrified or something. The rain was coming down in sheets and we both got soaked on the way to the car. I took off down the drive, only remembering to belt her in when I thought, god now wouldn't it be Murphy's law if we got hit by a car today, lightning or no, you can't risk her riding in the front seat with no belt on. I checked the house again from the outside as I drove away, no signs of smoke anywhere.

We arrived at the shop to find Kanji was not there! M-chan offered to call him for us, which he did, and I stepped inside to talk to him, telling him what had happened. This was odd. People who live with two languages like me know what it's like, how you have to practice what you want to say sometimes, or at least give it some consideration how to say things, before a meeting or shopping for something and things like that. You just do it automatically after a while. I realized I had no idea how to say 'lightning struck the house' in Japanese, I know enough about the language to know you can't just swap verbs and use the equivalent of 'strike' in Japanese - it's 'sutoraiku' when referring to baseball, or'tataku', which back-translates at 'hit'. Both of which I suspected were wrong; in the end I settled on 'keru' or ''kick', don't know why. But not only did Kanji understand me (and repeat back, just naturally, the proper verb choice, which was 'ochiru' or 'fall') but M-chan and T-chan, who were in the office understood what I was talking about too - they kept saying 'maji? maji?' ('really?).

I arranged to meet Kanji back at the house. I left Erica in the car at first, still kind of scared of the house. We went in, and I checked first for fires again. I asked Kanji to call the power company, thinking they'd send someone to check the damage. Do you do anything else? I brought Erica inside, and assured her it was safe now. We checked the power and it turned back on, then we went around checking the appliances and electronics. Sad, sad news:

In our initial assessment, we found we lost 2 computers, 3 DVD players, the TV, modem and phone. I was still high on adrenaline from the shock, and just kind of accepted all of this. I expected the power company to call round, but they didn't, once we told them the power was on again. In retrospect, I wish I had called the fire brigade just to check everything, just to have some authority tell me everything was okay, because it was very unnerving being the house, not knowing what was broken and what wasn't, and still worried about wiring in the walls catching fire.

I was so buzzed, there was nothing I could do but clean. I removed each electrical item, unplugged it, and plugged it in again to check at a plug I had determined was functional.. I found that one computer and one DVD player were okay, but that the electric piano was gone. And this is when I lost it. I just cried! I kept thinking of how Amy would feel knowing her beloved piano was gone. I was trying not to cry, but Erica saw me and called Kanji!

Since such a catastrophe had occured, I felt I had to cancel the rest of the day. But then, we would not be doing anything else except just sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, so I decided to go on with the swimming and karate lessons. I picked the big girls up from school as usual, and gave them the bad news. It wasn't until Amy got home and saw her piano that she got upset - she actually lay down beside it and gave it a hug! She said that we had to get exactly the same one to replace it, and put on that scratch and that black marker streak, and make sure we slotted a coin in somehow, like Erica did when she was a baby, so that the piano would rattle when you shook it, and a certain button would only work if you picked up the piano and rattled the coin back to the other end of the piano...

We promised we would not throw out the piano, we would keep it, for now, in the shed, until she was ready to part with it.

Meanwhile I had to contend with the loss of much of my data (I had all my photos and most of my documents on an external hard drive) and Kanji had to face the loss of all his stored TV shows and movies, as well as the brand new digital tuner/DVD/HD recorder he had bought only six months ago.

At first we were fairly cheerful - we'd claim insurance, and end up with a whole room full of new toys, right? Wrong. We were only covered for EXTERNAL damage in the event of a lightning strike. Bloody cheeky insurance company. They know fully darn well that an antenna and a couple of roof tiles isn't going to cost them much, but a roomful of electronics will! And who's going to check the fine print of their lightning strike coverage, or change their plan because of it?

We hadn't started using the aircon yet, so we only found out a few days later that they weren't working anymore either. Kanji is still working on the insurance, I have to make a claim using AFWJ's insurance, because the power adaptor for the Journal computer got zapped as well. MUCH paper work to do, while in the meantime, we get to win all points in the Setsuden (power saving) game! Amy entered us in the contest. How can you not win when all your stuff is dead?

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