Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Japan: People fleeing in fear... the silent streets are eerie

Firefighters and rescuers conduct their operations in Watari, Miyagi, northern Japan Monday, March 14, 2011 following Friday's massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

A Belfast man living in Japan has told how hundreds of locals are fleeing the country as fears mount over the potential for nuclear explosions.

Philip Arneill (36), a teacher at a primary school in Tokyo, said the streets of the city are “eerie” and “deserted” after last week’s quake.

“The threat of aftershocks and radiation has caused a large number of staff and families to flee to other cities and countries,” he said. “It’s very eerie to see my usual stomping grounds of Shibuya and Shimo-kitazawa, normally full of people, so strangely subdued.

“Shops and restaurants are closed from a combination of interrupted delivery routes, the call to conserve energy and the inability of staff to commute to work. Any businesses which are still open are dimly-lit and largely deserted.

“Most petrol stations have closed so even cars and motorbikes will only be a temporary blessing. Bread and milk are at a premium and I have seen no bottled water available since Saturday in any of the convenience stores and supermarkets.”

He said people were “preparing for the worst” by queueing in shops to bulk-buy food and drinks.

“Some supermarkets have limited the quantities per person of essential supplies to meet the demand,” he added.

Philip, who has lived in Japan for 13 years, was at work when the earthquake hit his school on Friday afternoon.

“Despite feeling regular jolts and tremors and countless evacuation drills, nothing really prepared me for what happened this time,” he said.

“As the shaking begins you have those familiar thoughts that ‘this might be the one’, but for the |first time on Friday it was those chilling extra few seconds when you realised it wasn’t a drill.

“You can only stand in the safest place, utterly helpless, and hope for the best.

“The feeling of complete powerlessness and fate is difficult to describe.”

Philip said the country was now in a state of “fear, shock and distress” as foreigners and locals waited to see what would happen.

He said there were concerns that Tokyo would bear the brunt of any nuclear leaks following the explosion at the power plant in Fukushima.

“The conflicting reports of nuclear leaks and another imminent earthquake have created a sense of uncertainty and fear in Tokyo that there is more to come,” he said.

“It is hard to tell to what extent there is genuine cause for concern and how much is simply the inevitable scaremongering and infectious panic.

“In a country where it is often so easy to look at the rest of the world and feel safe, suddenly nothing seems quite so certain.”

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