Caught in a quake

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Category : Monzurul Huq

Monzurul Huq
It could have been the worst day if I had been inside a building instead of the middle of the road. I was halfway between National Press Club building and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when all of a sudden I felt as if the ground beneath me had started shaking. It took time for me to realise that I was about to experience a powerful earthquake in an open space.

My reaction was slow because I had encountered earthquakes in this country at regular intervals, so much so that even as someone completely unfamiliar with what earthquakes meant before setting foot in this country more than one and a half decades ago I eventually got used to them to the extent that they even failed to wake me up from sleep when they occurred deep in the night.

However, I soon realised that what I was witnessing around me was completely different from what I had seen before. It did not take long for people to rush out of those huge buildings and look around nervously, as if not realising what they were supposed to do once they were safe from the possibility of getting trapped inside a collapsed building. Their frightened faces made me nervous and I too started staring around.

What my eyes caught at that moment was more frightening indeed, as I saw all those towering buildings shaking from the massive blows they were getting from down below. The telephone antenna on top of one of those buildings was simply trembling, as if seeking the mercy from somewhere to get strength so that it could withstand the shock.

It was at that moment that I realised I was standing next to a huge electric pole. The pole was also shaking in the quake, reminding me that I should move as far away from it as possible. As soon the first wave of big shocks slowed down I started walking. After reaching my destination I saw that the elevators were all turned off as a safety measure and had to climb the stairs to the seventh floor.

There too, as we started talking, I suddenly realised that the whole building was shaking, and for the first time I felt panic. The official with whom I had the appointment probably noticed my nervousness and took me to the next room where other officials were working. The presence of other people was reassuring, and after the second shock subsided we went back to the designated guest room to continue our discussion. There were more aftershocks later, but we were able to complete the discussion in time.

When I came out, I realised that all the subway and commuter trains had stopped running, so I walked to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan through Hibiya Park. It was by then full of people who had come out of surrounding office buildings.

Another climb to the higher floors of tall buildings was waiting for me as I arrived at the Club. Here too the elevators were turned off, and since our Club is located on the twentieth floor I had no other option but to use my legs. The Club was the safest place where I could stay the night if the transport link was not restored in time. I’m still at the Club as I write this report.

I must consider myself lucky as I was outside in the open air when the first big shock struck. One of my colleagues at the Club later told me of his horrifying experience of getting trapped in the subway. According to him, the carriages of the train all of a sudden became like small boats and started moving violently. He just prayed, and on reaching the next station rushed outside, took a taxi and, like me, eventually took shelter at the Press Club.

As I compile this report, more than 40 people have been reported dead and numerous others injured and missing. The death figure is sure to rise when the picture becomes clearer in the morning. The quake, with a magnitude of 8.8, is the strongest ever recorded in Japan, surpassing the 7.9 registered by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that hit Tokyo and its vicinity, killing more than 100,000 people.

The first shock of the quake was felt at 2:45 pm, and it was followed by a number of strong aftershocks in the next few hours. The epicenter was at a depth of 10 kilometers off the coast of Ojika Peninsula in Sendai City, which is 130 kilometers east-southeast in the Pacific. Up to 10-meter high tsunami waves followed the quake, one of which hit Sendai port, washing away small boats and containers. A wide, muddy stream carrying trees and rubble was seen moving rapidly across a residential area in Miyagi.

The earthquake also caused explosions in least at two factories and forced numerous manufacturers to suspend production. The quake also brought about disruption in mobile phone communication and forced railway and subway companies to stop trains in large parts of eastern and northeastern Japan, resulting in thousands of commuters getting trapped in the city. 4.4 million houses in six quake-hit prefectures were affected by power failure that followed the quake.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan held an emergency meeting of the cabinet following the quake. He said that the government would devote all its energy to face the crisis and urged citizens to stay calm and act promptly when needed.

The government has declared a state of emergency around nuclear power plants after the quake, saying that no radiation had been detected at or near any nuclear power plants as of Friday evening. Japan’s industry ministry announced that four nuclear power plants located closest to the quake hit areas had been safely shut down.

Sent from Tokyo.

daily star

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