Wed | Jun 19, 2019

Envoy recalls 2011 Japan terror quake

Published:Monday | March 11, 2019 | 12:16 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer

Eight years ago, a minor tremor felt in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, prompted then Jamaican ambassador to Japan, Claudia Barnes, to update her list of Jamaicans living in the East Asian country.

Almost a week later, on March 11, 2011, a 9.1-magnitude catastrophe unfolded in the form of the fifth-largest earthquake in human history. The saying ‘misery loves company’ became true, because violent and frequent aftershocks were compounded by a massive tsunami, killing thousands and thrusting ships onshore and vehicles atop buildings.

In an interview at her St Andrew residence on Saturday, Barnes said although none of the Jamaicans lost their lives, the pain felt for almost 16,000 natives killed and thousands more severely impacted resonated deeply.

Today marks the anniversary of that great earthquake.

“I don’t think my vocabulary is rich enough to express the emotions felt. It was catastrophic,” she told The Gleaner. “I had a meeting that morning with our coffee importers and left on a high. Objectives were achieved. I then had lunch, and from lunch, I attended a seminar.

“At that seminar at Hotel Okura, not far from our embassy, all diplomats were happy. Before we knew it, movements started suddenly, around 2:46 p.m., and were the strongest since being in Japan. I couldn’t take it and went under the table. Others followed me. It eased a bit, and the presenter continued.

“But the brutal aftershocks came, one after another. The ceiling of the room we were using underground was of glass, so it wasn’t safe to continue. Based on the movements, I expected to see buildings topple, but Tokyo wasn’t flattened,” she said, adding that other cities were not spared.

Barnes recalled rushing from the building to her embassy, five minutes away, where her staff were in evacuation mode.

“They were heading through the door with helmets on. I got my helmet,” said the former ambassador.

With everyone in evacuation mode, Barnes said she emailed Kingston to inform the authorities here of the devastation. “All of Tokyo was walking to safety or to find family. It was movement of Jah people!

“While Tokyo was somewhat spared, in other parts, the tsunami lifted up everything. I visited the port in Sandai city afterwards, and there was this massive ship on land. Piles of rubble looked like mountains. New cars waiting to be shipped were like when you wash clothes and wring them. We communicated with all Jamaicans except one man,” she said.

Today being the anniversary, Barnes extends “heartfelt sympathies to the people of Japan”, commending their efforts to quickly restore the affected areas to normality.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com