Timothy Berryhill was no stranger to earthquakes.
The U.S. Navy pilot and UF graduate had been previously stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where he sat through plenty of small shakes and tremors.
But earlier this month, when the rocking in the 35-year-old’s base room in Atsugi persisted past the short seconds he was used to, he knew something was out of whack.
“It was disorienting,” said Berryhill, who graduated in December with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. “It took me 20 seconds to realize, ‘OK, this is a lot worse than the tremors I’ve experienced before.’”
Berryhill attempted to get out of his room, where he was completing some work on his computer. The shaking was so bad he almost fell down. He made it to a nearby stairwell, where he clung onto the railing for safety.
Then, just like that, it was over.
After the shaking on March 11 subsided, he ventured to a fellow crew member’s room to figure out what exactly was going on.
“We were both watching the news together,” he said. “We saw the tsunami and it was very surreal.”
It almost seemed like we were watching a movie. It was humbling watching the cars and the buildings being taken by the force of the water.”
Within the hour, Berryhill called his wife, Katie McGoogan, and sent a mass email to friends to let them know he was OK.
McGoogan, an employee at Shands, said her husband called her just before she had time to panic, as she woke up to the news on the radio with her 7 a.m. alarm.
In a span of a couple days after the disaster struck, Berryhill’s Navy squadron, along with other squadrons from Pennsylvania, began mission work to help those in need.
That Friday, Berryhill went on a mission to distribute 21,000 pounds of food to the survivors, which they dropped off at another air base to be trucked down to the disaster areas.
In the Navy’s missions, supplies ranging from seismology gear to toilet paper to blankets were delivered.
However, Rod Turbak, Berryhill’s commanding officer, said that Japan’s government never formally asked for the help.
“Everybody wants to reach out and lend a helping hand,” he said. “People donated things. They piled up quite fast.“
Part of the cargo delivered by the Navy was from donations. The rest were from supplies that were on hand.
While flying on the relief missions, Berryhill and his crew were given radiation detectors to determine their nuclear contamination resulting from the destruction.
Based on the readings, the crew hadn’t been contaminated.
Now he’s back in Gainesville with his wife and 14-month-old child. But Berryhill, who had lived in Japan for three years, said he still carries a personal attachment to the area.
“I hold a special place in my heart for the Japanese people,” he said. “This is a huge tragedy. It was an honor to serve and assist our friends in time of need.”