Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Japan earthquake: ‘The movements just got stronger’

An elderly man is carried by a Self-Defense Force member in the tsunami-torn Natori city, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, Saturday morning, March 12, 2011, one day after strong earthquakes hit the area
Houses are in flames while the Natori river is flooded over the surrounding area by tsunami tidal waves in Natori city, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, March 11, 2011, after strong earthquakes hit the area
Reporters at the Associated Press Tokyo Bureau in Tokyo take shelter under a table while a strong earthquake strikes eastern Japan Friday afternoon, March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

An Omagh woman caught up in the earthquake in Japan has told how her fiancé narrowly escaped injury.

Primary school teacher Estelle Harkness (24), who works in Gunma, just north of Toyko, with her fiancé Reuben Skinner, said the quake was the most frightening thing she had ever experienced. Reuben had been due to go to the area worst affected by the tsunami, but had decided not to.

“At first I thought there was someone jumping in the apartment above, then the movements got stronger,” she said.

“Although I had read about earthquake safety, it’s hard to think straight in a time like that.

“My boss was able to contact me just before the phone lines stopped working and ordered me to go outside, as he feared our building wouldn’t be safe with such strong shakes.

“The movements continued for about two minutes. Everybody was standing outside looking up at the building they just evacuated.”

Estelle, who has worked in Japan since graduating as a teacher from Stranmillis College in Belfast, said the earthquake was “terrifying”.

Reuben had remained at school while she returned home for a break when the ground started to shake. “The earthquake hit about 2.45pm local time,” she explained.

“We were celebrating the graduation of our kindergarten students in school.

“After having put on a performance for the parents, we all ate lunch together in a local restaurant and were due to return to school again at 6pm for a party there.

“I had returned home to our apartment, leaving Reuben still at school teaching, where he had a lot of very scared children.”

Although the school was not damaged in the quake, Estelle said Reuben had a very lucky |escape.

He was due to travel to Sendai, the area worst affected by yesterday’s tsunami, for a week of training for a new job — but decided not to go at the last minute.

Estelle said both were “still in shock” as smaller aftershocks continued to rock the buildings.

“I fear what I will wake up to hear in the morning,” she said.

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