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Area resident's firsthand account of Japan quake

Heather Powell, the wife of Limerick Patch editor David Powell, was preparing to travel home from a business trip to Tokyo when an earthquake of magnitude 8.9 struck off the Japanese coast.

Heather Powell, the wife of Limerick Patch editor David Powell, was preparing to travel home from a business trip to Tokyo when an earthquake of magnitude 8.9 struck off the Japanese coast. She provided the following account via telephone while stranded with colleagues at Narita Airport outside Tokyo.

"We arrived at [Narita airport] at about 2:30 p.m. [Tokyo time, 12:30 a.m. EST].

"We walked in, there was no line. We checked in [quickly]."

As the group waited for the rest of their members to check in, the quake struck. Powell said a colleague who had previously experienced earthquakes was the first to realize what was happening.

"I heard the noise before I felt the shaking. It was just this rumbling. It knocked you off your feet a little bit. We stood there for a minute until the worst of it passed. Then the [airport counter staff] and airport police started yelling for people to get out of the building," Powell said.

"We saw people bolting for the doors. You could hear the glass windows of the front of the terminal rattling," Powell said.

"They wanted people away from the glass canopies and away from the building. They wanted us to walk all the way down the ramp to the parking lot."

"After an hour-and-a-half, it was getting cold and it was going to rain, so they herded us over to the glass canopy leading into the building, and they allowed us onto the first floor, which they said was secure and safe. But there was damage in other parts of the building so they wanted us to stay on the first floor."

"Eventually they started calling people who had either landed or checked in for flights to come get their bags. They were letting people into the baggage claim area to get their bags."

"Then they came around with bottled water and sleeping bags. They did not have enough sleeping bags for everybody. They told everyone that if they did not have a sleeping bag, they should 'use their outfit' [to sleep on]."

"It was very orderly. There was no fighting. There was no panic."

"They left the doors open on the first floor, so it was freezing in there. They eventually told us they'd secured the rest of the building and allowed us to come upstairs, where it's much warmer."

Powell described airport staff as extremely helpful and accommodating.

"At one point [a colleague] and I walked to the ladies restroom. There was a line, and an attendant led those of us waiting outside the restroom to the immigrations area, where there was an [unoccupied] bathroom."

Powell said all passengers have been told that they must remain at the airport.

"The roads are closed. There's no way to get in and out [of the airport]."

She said her group was in generally good spirits.

"We're tired and we're cranky, but we're laughing. We're kind of slap happy at this point. We're waiting for the McDonald's to open. The Starbucks was the only thing open, and they were only serving coffee and tea."

Powell said the airport has not lost power during the ordeal, but that she has had limited access to conventional media.

"There are a couple of TVs around showing Japanese language news broadcasts," she said.

Powell said she had mostly been keeping track of events via her Twitter account. Despite numerous reports of cell phone communication network difficulties, Powell said her group had had relatively little trouble communicating with the outside world. 

"AT&T [customers are] fine. The Verizon people can't get anything," Powell said.

During the interview, Powell was interrupted twice by aftershocks, one of which Powell said was measured at magnitude 6.6.

A short time later, the stranded travelers were informed via public address that the first flight announced since the quake, a Lufthansa flight, had been scheduled for 4:10 p.m. Saturday (2:10 a.m. EST).

Stephen Lyford March 11, 2011 at 08:32 PM
David, thank you for sharing such a unique and personal perspective on the earthquake and tsunami crisis in Japan. Hopefully Heather will be home as soon as possible!
Andria March 11, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Thank you for this information. My co-worker is looking for her bother - Robert Fish - goes by Bobby. From Saratoga Springs ,NY. He was on flight JL0009 from Chicago.
carole gordon March 11, 2011 at 09:01 PM
My fiance has communicated several times from Narita. He was scheduled to fly into LAX leaving at 4:45 yesterday. His account was exactly the same. He said he was given water and crackers. Most people were calm and it is very quiet in the building right now.
Frank Derby March 11, 2011 at 09:54 PM
My son Robert Derby works at Tokyo Disneyland. He called to let me know he is safe and staying at the park with cast mates as there is no train service to his apartment
Joe Zlomek March 12, 2011 at 02:31 AM
David, very happy Heather is OK, and hope she'll be home soon. Saw her as tonight's celebrity on WPVI-TV Channel 6 report regarding the 'quake. Impressive! Regards to you both and the family, Joe Zlomek, The Sanatoga Post

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