NIGHTMARE

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NORTH Antrim families have spoken of their relief that loved ones living in Japan survived the devastating earthquake which sent a killer tsunami hurtling through towns killing thousands of people.

And at least two local people were caught up on the fringes of the natural disaster which stunned the world on Friday.

Ballymoney man Andrew Goodliffe (27) - a language translator now living in Tokyo - was in a stationary train in a tunnelled section of railroad when the quake struck.

As buildings rocked from side to side above ground and shards of glass cascaded to the ground from broken windows, Andrew told the Times on Monday how the carriage he was in literally bounced up and down and shuddered from side to side.

He survived unscathed and, immediately aware, it was a major earthquake, Andrew instantly fired off an email on his iPhone to his parents - Roger who works with the North-Eastern Education Board and Jennifer, a teacher in the Model Primary School - back home in Beechill, Ballymoney, to let them know he was safe.

Minutes later the communications system in Japan went into meltdown which meant an anxious wait for news for Ballymoney mother Barbara Crawford.

Barbara, a former schoolteacher, who told the Times she had been frantic with worry over her daughter, Lara, also a schoolteacher, who was tutoring a class of young children when the quake struck.

Mrs. Crawford only became aware of the tragedy while listening to Radio 4 news and when she realised the magnitude of it all, she had to endure hours of waiting until communication finally came through that Lara had survived the horror of one of the worst disasters ever to hit the country.

Andrew Goodliffe spoke to the Times from Tokyo on Monday and relayed the dramatic moments when one of the biggest earthquakes ever to hit the country occurred.

Although Tokyo is several hundred miles from the under-sea epicentre of the quake, Tokyo wobbled and bounced.

He said: “I had been at work and was just going on the train to a meeting in another office on the other side of Tokyo and we had travelled as far as one station.

“Luckily when the quake hit we were stopped in the station at the time. At first it didn’t seem that serious - it was just like a little rumble - but then the train started bouncing. Those who were standing like me had to take care not to fall over.

“Although I was in a tunnel I felt safe on the train. It was a sort of perceived safety as if the shell of the train would provide protection.”

Andrew said he did not feel frightened.

“I was not particularly scared. It was strong enough to be unnerving but not particularly frightening. It was obvious it was quite a big earthquake and you immediately knew somewhere was getting seriously hammered but not Tokyo.

“Immediately when it happened I sent an email out through Googlemail on my iPhone and a short time later communications locked up for the next eight hours.

“But everybody kept calm and we were evacuated out of the station. We have regular drills here and there was no panic. When we headed outside there was a lot of damage. Windows were broken in one of the buildings across the road from where I work but some people were continuing on with everyday life and the most striking image I had was of a schoolgirl sitting reading a book like nothing had happened.”

Andrew said he walked back to his office but couldn’t get up to the 9th story to his desk because the lift had stopped and because of transport chaos he had to walk home, a trek which took several hours.

When he arrived his home was undamaged although a couple of plates had fallen.

Andrew has a Japanese girlfriend and she was also unhurt but as it would have taken her six hours to walk home she stayed the night in her place of employment.

Throughout the whole Tokyo area he said there were only around 20 reports of people being hurt by the quake which, along with the major tsunami, caused destruction in a part of the country several hundred miles away.

Andrew said his thoughts are with those killed and injured in Japan and he said his home is eight kilometres from Tokyo Bay so he does not feel at risk from tsunami.

But there are concerns about the potential impact posed by the potentially dangerous situation at nuclear power stations which were damaged after the tsunami.

Andrew said he has bought a supply of bottled water and dried food in case food runs out during the emergency but he said he studied engineering at university, and he hoped the situation will not turn out to be too serious.

Roger Goodliffe said he was thankful his son was unharmed.

Also in Ballymoney, Barbara Crawford, was anxious for news on Friday.

She said: “Virtually all communications had been lost because of the scale of the quake and tsunami and it took sometime before Lara was able to telephone us. My two sons and my brother were also trying to establish contact, but it seemed an age before we found out that she and her family were alright. I am so grateful.”

However, Lara (35) did experience some problems when the earthquake struck.

Mrs. Crawford explained: “Because Lara is teaching English all the time her Japanese isn’t as good as she would like. All the children knew what to do in the circumstances and dived under the desks, but getting all the procedures right proved a bit more difficult for Lara. She finally got a lift home from another teacher and it all ended

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happily when Lara’s husband confirmed by text that he was unharmed.

“What added to the overall stress were the aftershocks. Lara said they had been a real worry.”

A former student at Dominican College in Portstewart, Lara married her Japanese husband, Kiyo Yamashita, in 2006 two years after moving to Japan. She teaches English at a leading school in Tokyo and has a four year old son, Seizuro

Her mum and grandfather, Mr. Bob Rutherdale, have been living on the Gracehill Road since 1998 and were delighted to welcome Lara home at Christmas.

Mr. Rutherdale admitted he was worried and mightily relieved it had all turned out well.

“We all experienced a great deal of nerves until we found out that Lara was ok. I can tell you there were some frantic telephone conversations and I think at one stage that Lara wouldn’t have needed much coaxing to come home,” he said.