A WEARSIDE man living in Japan today told of the terrifying moment the devastating earthquake struck.
James Pounder, 24, who is from Newbottle, has been working as an English teacher in Tokyo. He described how the “panic began to spread” as the huge quake took hold.
Thousands of people are feared dead in the disaster, likely to be the largest to hit the region since records began.
In worst affected areas of Japan, homes, boats and planes were swept away by the waves from a tsunami triggered by yesterday’s earthquake, which measured 8.9 magnitude.
A relief mission of unprecedented proportions is under way, with thousands of troops, 300 planes and 40 ships reportedly mobilised by the Japanese government following yesterday’s catastrophic disaster.
Survivors are also facing the threat of a radioactive leak, with states of emergency declared at two nuclear power plants damaged by the sweeping tsunami.
Mr Pounder, a former Houghton Kepier School pupil, said in the office building where he works colleagues had experienced “weak tremors” during the day.
When the earthquake struck however, Mr Pounder said: “Quite quickly the panic began to spread.
“Within a minute or so, as the objects around the room began to move, the evacuation order came and we filed out in to the street.
“Negotiating the stairs down from the third floor was a little tricky and I really feel for those who were in skyscrapers.”
Mr Pounder has sent back messages online saying he is OK to mum Dale, dad Robert and brother Brett, 19, who live in Houghton.
He added that people in Tokyo remained wary of falling debris from buildings across the city.
“It wasn’t until well after midnight that I returned home,” he added.
There had also been fears for scores of Nissan workers from Sunderland who are working in the country.
The car manufacturer said it has 45 staff from the Sunderland factory in Japan, including about half a dozen at the firm’s Yokohama plant, the closest to the epicentre of the quake.
Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan vice president for UK Manufacturing, said: “There are currently 45 Nissan Sunderland Plant employees in Japan, working across a number of different Nissan sites.
“We have had confirmation today that all of them are safe and well.
“Our thoughts and best wishes are with all of those affected.”
Japanese students at the University of Sunderland are offered support. A spokeswoman said: “We have a small number of international students from Japan and are reminding them of our counselling and chaplaincy services.
“We offer any international students who may wish to call Japan, or any students with British relatives in the affected area, free access to the emergency telephone numbers provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at our Gateway reception desk.”