BBC Philharmonic orchestra caught up in Japan quake

Members of a BBC orchestra caught up in the Japanese earthquake have described it as a "frightening experience".

The tremor hit at 1446 local time (0546 GMT) as 90 musicians with the BBC Philharmonic were travelling on a coach from Tokyo to Yokohama.

Tour manager Fiona McIntosh said they eventually arrived safely in Yokohama only to find the city on tsunami alert.

The Manchester-based orchestra is on a tour of Japan where it was scheduled to perform 10 concerts in 17 days.

The orchestra's coach was crossing a suspension bridge when a powerful earthquake rocked the east side of the country.

'Violently swinging'

Violinist Simon Robertshaw, 39, sent a text message to friends in Manchester moments after it happened.

"OMG we've just been in an earthquake over a bridge.

"Crikey - that was scary!!"

Fellow violinist Tom Bangbala said the first they knew something was wrong was when the coach "started swaying".

All of a sudden, it was violently swinging from side to side and so was all the traffic around us," he said.

"It was then we realised it was an earthquake and we were stuck on top of a suspension bridge, quite a long way up, over what I think was Tokyo harbour.

"It was really scary, really scary."

Mr Bangbala said the earthquake had left a lot of people in the orchestra "extremely upset" but they were still hopeful that the tour would continue.

"One member of the orchestra was involved in the Kobe earthquake a few years ago, so it was quite traumatic for him."

Viola player Martin Wallington said it was "very frightening".

"We were very high up and when we came to a stop, the lorries and coaches were swaying and threatening to tip over and we had this sense of complete helplessness.

"There's a relief that everyone's OK. It was a dangerous moment."

Debris-filled water

The 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck about 80 miles (130km) off the Pacific coast of Japan, triggering a huge tsunami.

Television pictures showed a massive surge of debris-filled water sweeping away buildings, cars and ships and reaching far inland.

Image caption The earthquake struck off the north-east coast of Japan

Seismologists said it was one of the largest earthquakes to hit Japan for years.

A Philharmonic spokesman said the musicians had now returned to Tokyo from Yokohama but Friday night's concert had been cancelled.

The orchestra left Manchester on 1 March and is due to return on 17 March.

A UK helpline has been set up for anyone worried about friends or relatives in Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami: 020 7008 0000.

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