EXCLUSIVE: Teacher’s account of Japan’s earthquake

Amanda Horton during happier times just days before the earthquake struck

I was in the staffroom at school. It was a marking day for the admissions exams, so there were no students around. There were only three other teachers with me at the time.

Before the quake, alarms went off. Most phones in Japan are equipped with an earthquake alarm system which sends a warning of any large earthquakes. My phone alarm went, but it was only a minute before the shaking started. At first I wasn’t too concerned; there had been an earthquake on Wednesday and no one was bothered by it.

I just sat in my chair, waiting. When it got stronger and didn’t stop, I became a little concerned. The power went out and teachers were moving to the door so I followed suit. I don’t know how long the shaking lasted; it seemed to go on for ages. It was at least two minutes, nothing big fell over but folders and small items did.

Evacuation

When it stopped, the vice-principal came to the staffroom and told us to evacuate. The teachers were great, they made sure I was safe and started to fill me in. It was a very confusing time as people were trying to find out what had happened. Everyone was on their mobiles, trying to contact family, but the network was down.

Aftershocks kept coming, and after about five minutes of confusion, the principal told us to go home. I gathered my stuff and went home to choruses of “be careful”. The drive home was terrifying; aftershocks came and it was snowing heavily. The entire city was trying to get somewhere. Primary school children were being escorted home by teachers and the bad weather did not make things easy. I was told the Earthquake was M5.1 when it hit Shinjo.

Living conditions

That first night I was terrified. It is still very cold in Yamagata, with snow still piled high on the ground. I had three blankets on me as I tried to call everyone and anyone, desperate for news, but I couldn’t get through. I ended up making a sandwich by torchlight, since everything in my flat runs off electricity. I was too scared to undress in case we had to evacuate again, so I went to sleep fully clothed, clutching my mobile.

At 5.30pm Saturday, my friend in Kaminoyama managed to call me. After reassuring each other that we were ok, she told me she now had power, so posted on my Facebook wall that I was safe. I was still desperate to call home, but at least now people knew I was alive. At the moment, I can receive calls but not make them.

Missing people

I have a couple of friends who live in Sendai, I have heard from one of them and his is fine. The other I haven’t heard from, but I am praying and wishing. I don’t know exactly where they were since communication is still difficult. Without a doubt, Facebook has been invaluable for gathering information about people. I also have a friend in Fukushima, but she is safe.

I have three friends missing, a boy and a girl in Sedai and a girl Fukushima. The girls are both from Britain. The boy is French and works at Sendai University. I’m very worried. The foreign community in Yamagata are currently preparing to take in any foreigners made homeless from Miyagi or Fukushima.

Mostly, people are trying to get back to normal, but there is an atmosphere of concern and grief.

Sign up below to receive Blog Preston's weekly newsletter. It wings its way into your inbox every Sunday with a round-up of our best content from the last week and a look ahead to what's happening in the city.