‘Only a Few Could Escape’
Reporter details quake struggle
By BRIAN COVERT
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo — It started with rather small shaking about 5:46 a.m. and grew very rapidly, shaking [our] whole building. It lasted about 30 seconds. It got stronger and stronger, and objects began to fall. There were lots of crashing sounds.
Everything moved in the house. Things were crashing and glass was breaking. Dishes inside of kitchen cabinets broke. One of the kitchen cabinets fell [away from] the wall and hit the table. The door of the refrigerator opened and food came tumbling out.
Two big, heavy dressers slid about a foot away from the wall. A clothes rack in a spare bedroom fell down. It was near the door, so it had to be pushed aside to enter the room later. We have not yet pushed the dressers back because they are too heavy.
Books fell out of a bookcase. A lot of water sloshed out of the toilet and the bathroom and kitchen got [all] wet. The whole house was a mess.
Looking out the window after the first shock, I saw many buildings damaged and partly collapsed. Damage to our apartment building, a three-story reinforced concrete structure, seemed to be minor compared to others. The worst damage I have seen so far is an apartment building near the north exit of JR Koshienguchi Station. It totally collapsed. I heard the building was six stories [high] with shops and stores on the first and second floors, and the third to sixth floors were used as residences.
A fire broke out in the debris of that building and [firefighters] started fighting it as soon as the first quake stopped. But more than seven hours after that, it was still burning and three fire engines were on the scene. I visited the site but could see no one or hear no sound [from under] the debris. I do not know how many people lived there.
The residents may have been trapped inside. According to neighbors, only a few could escape. Because the fire was still burning, the building had not been entered. Most of the residents apparently are still inside.
On the first floor of the building were Sumitomo Bank cash machines, and I went there almost every day. It is shocking to see a building I often visited in rubble.
The road around the JR station had buckled, impeding the movement of cars. The station was closed and some people were sitting outside, apparently waiting for the railway to resume operations.
Sidewalks and building walls were cracked in many places. The gaps on the wall in the underground tunnel under the JR railway tracks were big [enough to put a hand into].
Usually there are many people waiting for taxis in front of the station, but Tuesday there was no one at the taxi station and no taxis coming. We have seen little traffic since the earthquake.
Near the station is a shopping district. Lots of stores were damaged but the damage appeared minor. Damage to older shops looked worse, while new shops looked all right, except for broken shutters and glass. Two old Japanese-style houses collapsed completely. They were one- or two-story houses.
Electricity was restored shortly after 2 p.m., but we have no gas or water. The telephone is disconnected. People are making lines at some of the pay phones that are working.
In the neighborhood, everybody is working slowly [to recover]. They are cleaning up houses and shops, picking up pieces [of debris] one by one. Shortly after the earthquake, everybody looked shocked. I saw people walking or sitting outside, wrapped in blankets and futon covers. They apparently just rushed out to escape the danger.
It is really shocking. It looks like a movie [portraying] an earthquake [disaster]. We still hear sirens. What impressed me was that (in this calamity) people were helping each other. One of shops somehow had a TV working and the shopkeeper gave up-to-date reports to neighbors. Reports are spreading by word of mouth.
Our biggest worry right now is our six-month-old son: What we can do for him, since we have no water or no gas? An [elderly] woman gave us some hot water and another woman offered us milk.
Now all we can do is to wait for announcements. The only announcement we have heard was some time ago. Somebody in a car with a loudspeaker said people can take shelter at the gymnasium of a nearby primary school, but we do not know where the car [came] from. The first phone call we received was one from Hawaii that came around noon. It was from my wife’s sister. She said she learned of the earthquake on TV.
We are concerned about my wife’s parents. They live in Nagata Ward [in Kobe], where the damage could be worse. We have no way to contact them.
What we did first after the earthquake was to make sure that we were all uninjured by calling to each other, because it was dark. Then we tried to turn on the light. But it did not [work]. We knocked on the door of our next-door neighbor, who lives alone as a tanshin-funin [company worker residing away from family] and commutes to an Osaka office.