Lerwick man in Japan reflects on impact of earthquake and tsunami

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Lerwick man Garry Robertson, who is now based in Japan, moved out of Tokyo for safety reasons in the wake of last week’s tsunami.

However, he says his experience was mostly one of inconvenience, and nothing compared to the real victims in the disaster.

Garry, 32, has been in the country for five years, initially working as a fish salesman for Shetland Catch. He is now combining teaching English at a college with studies. He was in central Tokyo attending his Japanese language school when the earthquake struck.

He said: “As earthquakes are very common everyone knows what to expect when the initial rumbling occurs, so it was very apparent within the first few seconds that it wasn’t normal. Our building only has four floors, of which we were on the second. The depth of power which was violently throwing the room around was relentless; the length of time which passed was the scariest point.

“I was sure the epicentre must have been very close to Tokyo and my initial feeling was major damage must have happened. My initial reaction was to try to connect with my wife Sayuri as she was driving home from our lunch together.

“The route home from that area is about five miles west of Tokyo on a local road which is under elevated motorways all the way. I knew those motorways were the cause of such loss of life at the Kobe quake as they collapsed on the cars below and I just wanted to confirm her whereabouts. The mobile network was almost instantly out of service from that point. The helpless feeling started.”

Garry said they weren’t an any real danger, as the building had stood up to the battering, but they didn’t know if it was all done or not.

“Fairly quickly the teachers could tell us the quake had struck off the coast of Sendai and there was a tsunami warning of massive waves. No major damage in Tokyo was reported but we never really knew much more than that. We just had the inconvenience of trying to get home by foot and with no mobile communication.

“Finally, I could confirm Sayuri was okay (by Facebook at an internet cafe) and got home. It was only then I realised the complete devastation. I felt ashamed that I had thought I went through such an ordeal in my day. Even now, several days on its not clear how many thousand are lost. My father-in-law still cannot make contact with his aunt and uncle who live in the Sendai region.”

During the days following the earthquake Garry has either been glued to the television/internet or talking with friends as they were told there was a 70 per cent chance of a magnitude seven quake hitting the Kanto region within three days. Then all the problems surfaced at the Fukushima nuclear plant, and there has been constant smaller aftershocks with a few magnitude six quakes thrown in now and again.

He said: “The worry now is not about a tsunami hitting Tokyo (as Tokyo Bay is relatively sheltered from the open sea) but the potential of radiation exposure, as we have some confidence that Tokyo can withstand a large earthquake structurally.

“There have been so many conflicting stories that after watching TEPCO officials declare an emergency situation at a hastily-arranged live press conference around 1am last night we decided to take the precaution of getting away from potential panic areas and are now in Shimoda city on the Izu peninsula, around four hours drive from Tokyo. We are going to sit it out here until the situation becomes safer to return to everyday life.”

He said it was important to point out that he was merely an inconvenienced Tokyo-ite and wouldn’t want to come across as anything other in light of the tragedy. “It is not over yet but so far it has been a terrible experience.”

• Several appeals have been set up for victims of the earthquake and tsunami, including one by the Red Cross at www.redcross.org.uk/Donate-Now/Make-a-single-donation/Japan-Tsunami-Appeal


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