Gorleston man tells of Japan earthquake horror

A FORMER Gorleston man has vowed to stay in Japan even though many fellow Britons are leaving due to the threat of radiation leaking from a nuclear power station.

Teacher Richard Spinks, 40, wears a white mask to stop him breathing in radioactive materials from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where there have been a number of explosions in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami last week.

However, Mr Spinks, who grew up in Edinburgh Avenue, will not be joining the exodus of foreign nationals fleeing Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

He said TV channels had been carrying stories of people applying for re-entry visas so they could return to Japan once the crisis had passed.

The former Yarmouth College said, who lives with his wife Kazumi, 37, 400kms away from the plant in Sakura, said: “We are staying put. Our home is here, but we are a bit worried about it, yes. It depends on the weather and wind direction and they have been flying helicopters over the plant dropping sea water to stop further explosions.”

He added announcements on TV advised people to stay at home, but many were venturing out in white masks, similar to those worn by hospital surgeons. Earlier this week, he spoke of his terror after he was caught up in the earthquake while at a hotel close to Narita International Airport in Chiba prefecture with students from Narita Airline Business College.

Two powerful tremors measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale struck within minutes of each other at 2.46pm last Friday <March 11> while the students were eating dinner.

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Speaking to the Mercury this week, Mr Spinks said: “We were celebrating the students’ graduation in a hotel near the airport when the earthquake struck. We were sitting there eating dinner and the room started to shake and it was quite scary.

“Everybody tried to get out of the room and under a doorway. The first quake must have lasted for about 30 or 40 seconds and I could barely stand up.”

Hotel staff told guests to congregate in the car park for their own safety.

“When we were outside another quake came, which lasted for about 15 or 20 seconds though it seemed longer than that. The hotel windows and doors were shaking, the glass was shattering, everyone was screaming and shouting it was terrible really. I have never been in an earthquake that strong and have lived in Japan for 12 years.”

Richard than found he was unable to contact Kazumi 20kms away in Sakura as phone lines were down and he had no idea how she was until he managed to get home three hours later.

The former Yarmouth College student could not get a train home as public transport had stopped, but he got a lift with a colleague who also lived in Sakura, though this 20km trip took an hour-and-a-half due to heavy traffic cuased by the quake.

Inside the couple’s house, crockery had shattered and there was a lot of broken glass, though the outside of the building had escaped damage.

And the couple’s pet dog Momochan, two, escaped unhurt though the chihuahua shih tzu cross had been shaken by the quake. Kazumi and Momochan had got out of the house when it started to shake.

Sakura, on the west coast, escaped the devastating tsunami wave which devastated much of northern Japan because it was 500kms away from the quake’s epicentre 81 miles out to sea off Sendai.

Richard, who trained in Japanese, history and economics at Sheffield University, said TV broadcasts had warned people not to leave their homes because of the threat from radioactive particles in the air and to wear hats if they did go out.

He added fears were also rising that the seismic activity could cause the country’s giant volcano Mount Fuji, only 200kms from Sakura, to erupt.

On Tuesday this week, Richard told the Mercury trains were still not running and petrol was scarce and the region of Chiba has been inundated by some of the 650,000 people left homeless by the tsunami, and now staying at schools, gyms and community centres in the area.

But Richard, who fell in love with Japan after visiting as a Rotary exchange student in the early 1990s, praised the natural “orderliness” and organisation of the Japanese, which had helped to make a tough situation much easier.

There has been no looting and people have been prepared to wait in long queues for food and petrol. He said the Japanese were well prepared for a natural disaster in one of the most seismically-active countries on earth and most families always prepare an emergency bag containing dried food, clothing and other essentials to take with them if they have to evacuate at short notice.

Tremors are a daily occurence and buildings are reinforced with steel and rubber shock absorbers, while walls are also strengthened to prevent collapse if an earthquake strikes.

Richard uses his language skills to train students at the college to become airline cabin crew and has been teaching at the college for four years, having previously worked for the municipal government.

He particularly loved the “collective” mentality of people in his adopted homeland and how they put others before themselves and the customer service culture.

For his father Alan, 72, a member of Yarmouth Rotary Club, the first few hours after the quake struck were a time of considerable worry as he did not hear from his son until he called after getting home from work.

The family is still coming to terms with the tragic loss of Mr Spinks’ brother Andrew, 46, who died on New Year’s Eve from intestinal bleeding on a flight home from a four week holiday in Thailand.

Alan said: “Of course, I was quite concerned, especially as I had lost my eldest son a couple of months before and it was quite a shock to have the worry of whether Richard was alright.”

Alan, who lives with Thai wife Samphao, 40, has three other children - Mark, 31, David, 43 and James, seven.