When the ground ruptured in a massive 7.5 quake, Minae Akiyama feared her life would end as ceilings crumbled around her. She had journeyed north to celebrate the New Year with relatives, excited for festive family meals.
Instead, panic gripped her as violent tremors rocked her mother's stone and wood home, the table shielding her the only defense against collapsing infrastructure.
Two nights later, even small aftershocks transport Akiyama back to those seconds of life-or-death terror, her heart pounding as the memories overtake her.
Those remaining moments inside are a blur - frantic prayers, grabbing her bag, fleeing into the snowy evening. Outside, the destruction became clear, and the house's interior was ransacked by the quake's power. Furniture smashed, appliances crushed, mementos from decades of her mother's life now reduced to debris.
Though Akiyama's family survived unharmed, witnessing the scale of wreckage makes recovery feel distant.
With electricity severed and power lines felled, there could be no possibility of returning home. The bitter Ishikawa cold necessitated swift shelter as Akiyama, her grandparents, parents, and three siblings picked their way solemnly through rubble-strewn roads.
With minimal food in hand, they arrived at an evacuation centre, converting a local school gym into dorms for over 100 shellshocked survivors.
Living side by side with other newly homeless locals, they claimed space on the hardwood floor and passed out emergency blankets. With heat and running water no longer guaranteed amenities, rest and warmth fleeting luxuries, the hours turned desolate and long.
Periodic aftershocks shudder the makeshift shelter, jolting awake its uneasy inhabitants. Akiyama compulsively braces for another life-threatening quake each time the ground rumbles.
Though rescuers confirmed only two dead so far, with over 200 wounded and millions bereft of basic utilities, analysis continues on the full scope of damage and how long full repairs may require. Many cheerless, bone-chilling winter nights still lie ahead for Akiyama and fellow evacuees plunged into uncertainty.