While most of us were watching from afar the horror unfolding in Japan with the March 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, some people in the industry were near the epicenter.
CME Group Vice Chairman Charlie Carey and colleague Dave Lehman had been in Asia for a Palm Oil conference. After the Kuala Lumpur meeting, they flew to Japan where they held a cocktail party in Tokyo for members on Thursday night, March 10.
“After lunch [with some brokers] on Friday we headed to Narita Airport [via car],” Carey recalls. He says when they pulled up to the terminal it was a little “weird” because people were hanging outside the terminal, but the men continued toward their flight gate but security was backed up and not moving.
“I asked someone from United what was happening and they said there had been an earthquake and they were checking the runways for damage.” He says he didn’t feel the initial quake when they were in the car, but shortly thereafter the airport started shaking violently. Carey ran outside but the ramp he was on kept shaking.
Officials evacuated everyone to a parking lot as they checked the airport for structural damage. It was pretty cold, Carey says, “and then it started raining. I wasn’t dressed for camping.” Finally, about two hours later people were allowed back in the terminal but flights were delayed or canceled. He and Lehman set up “Camp Lehman” in the waiting area where they took turns sitting on a briefcase as there was nowhere to sit due to the crowd.
Throughout the night there were tremors, which were unnerving, and the only news he got were phone texts from his office. “There was Japanese TV and the BBC, but we could barely hear it. The only news I got was from my office," he says.
The next morning, with flights canceled to Chicago, Carey was planning to join Lehman on a non-stop flight to Houston just to get back to the United States. He heard terrible stories of people trying to get to Narita: one person had been stuck on a train 7 hours to get there from a nearby airport. And going back to Tokyo was out: Some brokers he knew were at the Imperial Hotel but had spotty electricity and elevator service, he says. He just wanted to get back to the States, anywhere, and make his way home.
“I was standing in the Delta line for the Houston flight and then something opened to Chicago, so I ran over there and was able to get on it.”
Carey has even more respect for the Japanese people who have dealt stoically with the tragedy. “They handled a very difficult situation. You could tell it was a cultural thing,” he says. But for Carey, who has never been in an earthquake before, “It was 27 hours of yikes!”