The day that shook Japan

2011-03-12 17:33

“It’s like being on a roller-coaster ride, except you are not strapped in, nor do you know when it is going to end.”

This is how South African Helena Odendaal described being on the 13th floor of her office building in central Tokyo when the earthquake struck on Friday.

“We got under our desks. It was scary. From our floor we could see other 20 and 30-storey skyscrapers wobbling like jelly.

“A powerful aftershock struck half an hour later and we wondered whether the first shake was a preview of an even bigger earthquake.”

She wrote via Facebook that everyone was very calm, especially her Japanese colleagues.

“I can’t imagine that the experience would have been the same in another country. If you ever have to be in an earthquake, the safest place to do so would be in Japan.

“Everything is so well geared for earthquakes; systems are in place, people are prepared,” she wrote.
 
South African Andrew Kirby, general manager of global marketing for the Lexus Group, was on the 34th floor of his office building in Nagoya, 260km south of Tokyo, when the shocks became severe.

“It was a very unnerving experience. I felt nauseous. The first shock lasted three minutes – that is a long time when the earth is shaking underneath you.

“In the first half an hour we experienced up to five aftershocks.

“It was the first time I’ve experienced such a big tremor. Most of us didn’t realise the severity at first. I tried to contact my wife, but the cellphone network was off.”

Speaking on the phone yesterday, Kirby said he finally got news from his wife 45?minutes later.

“She was in her car when it started swaying. She thought it was a tornado, but then she saw people running from buildings.”

The whole situation took some time to unfold, but, said Kirby, there was little panic and people were very calm.

“Although there is a lot of heartache, people are very organised. There is no panic buying and everybody seems to be coming and going as usual.

“I found that South Africans are less likely to panic and overreact in severe situations. We are quite resilient and do not take things too badly.”

Some of Kirby’s colleagues from other parts of the world were not that calm.

“The real human tragedy will unfold in the next few days when it becomes apparent how many people’s lives have been destroyed and what it is going to take to rebuild those parts of the country destroyed by the tsunami.”

In Miyakonojo city, in the southern-most part of Japan, South African Lisa Scott had just finished teaching her last English class when teachers rushed into the staff room to turn on the TV.

There were no shocks or aftershocks in Miyakonojo, but residents were warned to stay away from the coast, an hour’s drive away.

“For about two hours we just sat in horror watching the tsunami destroy Sendai and just swallow everything in its wake. Many of my colleagues have family in other areas and couldn’t get hold of them.

“One of my teachers was just pale and crying – showing emotion like that is not very common in Japanese culture, so I was very surprised!” Scott wrote on Facebook.

“It was horrific. A sight I will never forget. Just watching people’s entire lives being washed away like that. Thinking of all the lives that have been affected. And praying for all of Japan right now.

“As a South African, I feel completely unprepared. I have never experienced anything like this. For the most part, it looks like a movie. It’s completely surreal. But I know from the sadness in my colleagues’ faces that it is very real.”

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