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.”

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.