11 Mar 2011

Japan tsunami: ‘Entire villages swept away’

Witnesses speak to Channel 4 News about a country in shock as Japan assesses the damage of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake, which in turn triggered a 10 metre high tsunami.

On Friday afternoon local time Japan was hit by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded.

An 8.9 magnitude quake stuck off the east coast of Sendai city and triggered a huge tsunami which slammed into Japan and swept across the Pacific ring of fire.

The north east of the country was worst hit as huge waves washed over large swathes of land, carrying houses, cars and people with it.

According to reports up to 300 bodies were found on the Sendai coast. With widespread destruction the number of people killed is expected to rise significantly.

Witnesses have told Channel 4 News “entire villages” were swept away in the torrents of water triggered by the earthquake.

Speaking from Tokyo Matt Alt witnessed the initial earthquake which latest for a number of minutes.

“Tokyo is largely unscathed – cracks appeared on buildings after the shake, but by far the worst affected is in the north of the country. I’ve heard of entire villages being swept away.

“I’ve been trying to reach people but phone lines are down, highways are shut, train lines down. Transport is in meltdown.”

A number of strong aftershocks were still being felt hours after the initial quake.

The scale of the destruction is still being assessed, but reports have suggested a commuter train is unaccounted for, a major airport is largely underwater and a boat carrying 100 people was lost in the wall of water.

Shaun Sands, an English teacher at a primary school in the Kanagawa area west of Tokyo, told Channel 4 News that as the earthquake struck, pupils and teachers hid under their desks.

“I did hear some screaming from another room but everyone was sort of ready for it,” Mr Sands said. “The kids knew the drill.”

It was after the initial quake that Mr Sands and his colleagues realised the extent of the damage as they watched on television the torrents of water crashing through north of the country.

“Everyone was in shock”.


Sheltering for safety

As Japan’s transport system came to a halt in much of the country there were reports of commuters camping out in stations.

While phone lines down masses of people took to the interest to share stories and search for information about friends and family in the worst affected areas.

Amongst a frenzy of social network users sharing information David Halton tweeted about losing his home in Sendai, one of the worst affected areas in Japan.

As dark descended and with no electricity in the area, Mr Halton said he was sheltering in a school with his family and a number of other people after the tsunami. He said his sons had kicked down a door to reach an elderly lady in a nearby building.

“Just saw a pic of my friend’s restaurant swept away in the tsunami. I pray he and his family are safe,” he tweeted.

Internet giant Google launched a crisis response page with the latest tsunami warnings and launched an online people finder tool for those worried about lost ones. Click here for more.

Friday’s earthquake was the strongest in recorded history to hit Japan.

The previous record was an 8.6 magnitude earthquake that struck near the Chubu Region near southwestern Honshu on October 28, 1707. It is estimated that there were over 5,000 fatalities from that earthquake, and some scientists believe it could have triggered the eruption of Mount Fuji 49 days later.