Thursday, 18 January 2007

The Forces of Nature

Something rather rare and frightening happened in Konoura today.

The weather forecast for today was for rain. Throughout the morning it was drizzling. A little after 1.30 I was sitting in the staff room typing on my computer. Also in the staff room were Hosoya-san and Machiko-san sitting behind me by the window; a female teacher called Aiba-sensei sitting across from me; and to my left with their backs to the door and to a set of equipment (the school bell system and the surveilance system screen) were two male teachers. All of a sudden there was this click sound just like a camera shutter and a flash like a camera flash. It seemed to be coming from one of the two men, Hiroshi-sensei's direction, and all four of us women thought that he took a picture of us and made to turn our heads to find out why he would do that. But a fraction of a second later there was this HUGE crash of thunder. (It's times like that when you realise just how fast the human mind thinks; that most people can have several complete distinct thoughts in a row in such a small time that the body's reflexes don't even have time to react is something that I find fascinating.) We all jumped up and kind of went 'wow!' and compared stories. The two men had no idea until we told them that to our eyes it looked as if the lightning had come from them. We at first assumed that lightning had struck behind the school and we had seen it flashing through the glass panel of the door from the window in the corridor just outside the door. But then Togashi-sensei came into the staffroom and said he had been looking out a window when the lightning struck and it had shot up from somewhere to the west, which is in front of the school, in the opposite direction. (Did you know that lightning bolts go upwards? Not everyone does.) About this time Mitsunori-sensei (the other male teacher who had been sitting next to Hiroshi-sensei) started saying that he had a sore back. We wondered if the flash had come from the equipment behind the two teachers, but we couldn't see any damage. The surveilance TV was still working fine. All the computers were fine. We all ran around checking to make sure that there was no damage or anything in the school; no blown lights or singed areas, stuff like that. Nothing.

Togashi-sensei could not say how far away the lightning had struck. All he could say was that it was beyond the train line. There is only about half a kilometer of land between the train line and the ocean, if that. We all sat back down at our desks and had a (tension-relieving) laugh about how Aiba-sensei, Machiko-san, Hosoya-san and I had all thought that Hiroshi-sensei had taken a photograph. We were all still feeling shocked; there had been no lightning that day so we were not at all prepared for it. About ten minutes after the lightning struck, the sirens started. Uh-oh, somethings on fire. There was an announcement over the town speakers saying which neighbourhood the fire was located in. The two male teachers started going through the student records checking how many children lived in the area, while the rest of us went to the window, peered through the sheets of rain that had been coming down since the lightning struck and saw that there was indeed a column of smoke starting to rise to the sky. At first the teachers were saying that they did not think many of the students lived near there, but when they checked the records they found they were wrong; many students live in that neigbourhood. A call came to the school from somewhere telling the name of who the house was registered to. The teachers started to go back through the record again looking at each child from the areas' father's name. At first they thought there were no students affected, but then it was noticed that one of the second grade boys grandfather's name matched. Less than a minute later another call came through confirming that yes, that boy lived in the house that was on fire. Someone double-checked with the elementary school and found that the boy's little sister had already been taken to the house by her teacher (I don't know, to watch it burn I suppose). The boy was taken out of class, sat in the Principal's office for a few minutes with a glass of water, and then the second grade dean took him down too. I think the fire had been put out by that stage. As an aside, every single student in the school knew what had happened to whose house about 30 seconds after the boy himself knew despite the teachers trying to keep it hush.

Many other students were worried about their own houses. It turns out that on every side of the lightning-struck house (both sides, behind and across the road) for several doors down are the houses of other students. But luckily for them the fire did not spread. If heavy rain had not followed the lightning, who knows what could have happened? The firestation for Nikaho City is close to Konoura, but the house is in an area of town with narrow winding streets so it still took the firetrucks long precious minutes getting there.

It was just chance. If lightning strikes enough, sooner or later it is going to hit someone's house and set it on fire. That's just how nature works.

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