Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Ulsterman on skyscraper's 30th floor as earthquake hit

An oil refinery burns in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture Japan Friday March 11, 2011 following a massive earth quake.
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)

A Northern Ireland man has described how he was in a 30-storey skyscraper near Tokyo which shook from side to side when the massive earthquake struck Japan.

Niall McGurnaghan (29) from north Belfast emailed his relieved family to say |he was alive after they attempted unsuccessfully to contact him.

The electronic engineer, originally from the Antrim Road, had been working in the office of a large micro-electronics company when the earthquake struck in the middle of the afternoo.n

In a dramatic email to his sister Lucy, he wrote: “Yes I’m alive. It was very scary. Scale 5 where I am. Pretty big. In on the 30th storey of a building which was moving from side to side. Can you tell mum I’m OK as I know she was trying to get through?”

Mr McGurnaghan has been working for Wolfson Microelectronics in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, since January 2010.

The former pupil of Royal Belfast |Academical Institution had worked at the company’s headquarters in Edinburgh for several years.

He had been due to finish a 14-month |contract in Japan but this had recently |been extended.

He described the chaos that ensued in the aftermath of the quake.

“Lots of streets have been cordoned |off with bits having fallen off buildings,” |he said. Trains and the metro were stopped and highways were closed.

“Everyone is having to walk, I had to walk home from work but I’ve heard stories of people walking five hours to get home.”

His sister Lucy, who now lives in London, had also worked in Japan for three years, where she had taught English.

“We couldn’t get in touch with him for ages,” she said. “Mum had tried his work number and couldn’t get hold of him. I |emailed him and we got hold of him eventually. We’re all just relieved he’s okay.”

When Lucy was in Japan on an exchange programme she was encouraged to keep an emergency kit as the country is prone |to earthquakes.

“We were put on tsunami/earthquake survival training courses,” she said.

“I had a rucksack packed with some clothes, a torch and food for an event like this. I told Niall he should do something similar.”

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