'The most incredible day of my life'
- 12 March 2011
- From the section Highlands & Islands
A Scot teaching English in Japan has told of the moment the country's most powerful earthquake struck.
Graeme Melvin, 28, from Edinburgh, was staying with friends when the 8.9 magnitude quake hit the country. Here, he recounts how events in the capital unfolded.
In the afternoon I was working in my office in Kagurazaka, marking some writing tests on the fourth floor, when I felt the unmistakable rumbling of an earthquake.
"Small earthquakes are really common in Tokyo so I just smiled and kept working. But when it continued for over two minutes, I began to feel a little nervous.
Very suddenly the strength of the earthquake increased dramatically and the entire room was shaking violently and I was struggling to keep my chair with me in it from falling over.
I was about to duck under the table when the door burst open and my co-worker David shouted at me to "get out now".
I ran after him to see chaos in the main office as computers were falling off desks, chairs were being thrown over and everyone was running for the exit.
As we made it outside into the huge car park, we turned to see the building literally moving from side to side, with the glass windows rattling as if being pounded by hurricane winds.
Luckily, no one was hurt but several people were crying and everyone was totally shocked after what seemed like 10 minutes of shaking finally stopped.
Because all of the trains had stopped, I had a choice of walking home - it would have taken four to five hours - or accepting David's invitation to go back to his house and grab something to eat and a few beers until the trains were back on.
I finished the marking I had to do and myself, David and two bilingual members of staff, Marie and Yudai, spent five hours talking over what had happened, trying to get as much information as we could from the news and the internet and waiting for information about the trains.
The aftershocks were still frequent and reasonably strong so we were anxious about the possibility of another earthquake.
Our mobile phones were all without signals and, with the exception of a call from my cousin Richard to check if I was ok, the only way to keep in touch was via Facebook, Twitter or Skype.
By 8pm some of the subway lines were providing limited services and luckily for me, they were heading in my direction.
The nearest station, Kudanshita, was completely packed with people in massive queues running back through the ticket barriers and up the stairs.
The trains were already at capacity, only a very few people were able to squeeze onto each one.
As another train pulled up to the platform there was an aftershock. It wasn't particularly strong but the fact that one of my feet was already off the ground due to the crowds meant that it was enough for me to fall and hit the back of my head on the concrete, knocking me out.
The couple behind me must have grabbed me very quickly up off the ground to stop me from getting trampled.
I was feeling incredibly dizzy after hitting my head and realised I had to move away from the huge crowds and try to find some fresh air as my whole body was feeling light.
I made it to the ticket barrier and then everything went black as I fainted. I was woken up by one of the ticket barrier staff and helped onto my feet by a group of other passengers.
I slumped in a chair to get my head together and work out how to get home.
My only option at this stage was to catch a taxi. Upon reaching ground level, I saw how difficult this would be as in all directions was wall-to-wall traffic, which was barely moving.
In the end, I had to walk up and down dozens of streets until I was able to catch a taxi and get on the road home. I also was the victim of a pickpocket as I walked. Luckily, I had my Visa card to pay the driver.
It took four hours to complete a 30-minute journey.
I made it home at 6.30am to find my apartment just as I had left it; a little messy but showing no signs of damage from the earthquake.
This has been one of the most incredible days of my life but the carnage caused by the earthquake and the devastating tsunami is severe and the current death toll is rising.
The kindness of my colleague David earlier in the day and the assistance of strangers at the station, shows that if we help each other we can pull through this situation and, I hope that with aid from their international allies, the Japanese people can overcome this terrible disaster."