Two families in the St. John’s area are thankful their loved ones are safe in the aftermath of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan.
One of the biggest recorded earthquakes in history, the aftershocks are reported to have reached magnitudes up to 7.1.
The resulting tsunami caused unfathomable devastation in coastal areas. Radiation is leaking after explosions at a crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima, about 250 kilometres north of Tokyo.
At 7 a.m. on March 11, Shirley Sellars awoke to find an email from her brother, Bob Heringer, in Tokyo.
“He had crawled under a table in his apartment and he didn’t think they were going to make it,” the Mount Pearl resident said.
Heringer and his wife, Akemi Takemura, went to Tokyo in January to visit Takemura’s family. They planned to return to Canada in the spring.
Sellars said her brother, who teaches English when he’s in Japan, was on his way to work when the earthquake occurred.
“He ran back into his apartment. Akemi was calling out in Japanese, ‘This is different, it might be a big one,’” Sellars said.
“She knew it wasn’t like the earthquakes she experienced before.”
The couple took refuge under the table all night, emerging long enough for Heringer to email his family.
Back in Newfoundland, Sellars — still shocked — went to work where she followed news reports online.
That night, she spoke to her brother by telephone. From the information he was getting, it appeared the worse was over.
“He thought they would be OK. They had seen the results of the disaster on TV, but nothing about the nuclear explosions. I don’t think the (Japanese) government wanted to tell them too much because they were afraid of panic.”
After learning that radiation had begun leaking into Tokyo, Heringer registered as a Canadian citizen and was able to book a flight back to Canada.
Sellars lost contact with her brother when the couple left their apartment for a brief stay with Takemura’s mother.
“But he called me Wednesday morning to say they had gotten the last two seats on that flight.”
Her fears were finally alleviated when the couple arrived in Toronto late Wednesday night, exhausted and shaken, but safe.
“Akemi found it very difficult leaving her family there,” Sellars said.
Jonathan Gregory’s family in St. John’s did not have to bear the burden of fear for quite so long.
His parents, Brian and Marion Gregory, learned about the disaster through a phone call.
“Somebody called to tell us and we immediately tried to get all the information we could,” Gregory said.
“My wife called my daughter to see if she had been in contact with Jonathan. He had put a posting on Facebook saying they were fine. We are so relieved they’re safe for now.”
Jonathan Gregory, his wife Kumiko, and their two young children live in Nagoya, about 300 km southwest of Tokyo.
Kumiko’s family lives in Fukushima City, about 100 km from the nuclear plant.
“Her family came home from work and because there was no power, they didn’t know how much structural damage had been done to their house so they slept in their car,” Gregory said.
Travel in the area is difficult, but if the situation worsens he believes Kumiko’s family will be able to get to Nagoya.
“They are very strong people and I’m sure they will be fine,” he added.
Gregory has been in Japan for about 16 years. Although his parents are relieved, the uncertainty of the situation is cause for lingering concern.
“It’s difficult for us,” he said. “You never know what’s coming — with an earthquake, a tsunami and the nuclear plant (explosions) happening all in such a short time — it’s very scary.”
NOTE: A first person account of reaction to events in Japan, from another Newfoundlander now living in Nagoya, is available in The Weekend print edition.