`Books went flying and the room shook like a jelly'

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The Independent Online
Michael Miller woke at quarter to six yesterday morning to find his room, high over the city of Kobe, "shaking like a jelly".

Books were cascading from shelves, furniture falling over and objects as heavy as refrigerators sliding around as though on a skating rink. "It took me several seconds to realise what was going on," said Dr Miller, dean of the Kobe Institute, "but I and all the students managed to get out unscathed. It was a miracle no one was hurt, when people a quarter of a mile away were killed."

The institute, an outpost of St Catherine's College, Oxford, opened on a mountainside overlooking Kobe three years ago. From their vantage-point, Dr Miller and his 30 postgraduates, half British, could see the city below being devoured by flames.

"There were about 10 huge fires, which gradually merged into one as we watched," the academic, 45, told the Independent. "All day police and military helicopters were flying to and fro, but there wasn't much they could do."

With the area constantly shaken by aftershocks - Dr Miller had counted more than 20 - staff and students stayed outdoors all day, building bonfires to cook and stay warm in near-freezing weather. Nine of the students had arrived from Stirling University only last week.

"We tried to discourage people going into the city unless they could give help, but those who went down said things were very bad indeed," said Dr Miller. "During the day we were joined by a family whose home had been destroyed, and several former students who had fled high-rise blocks in the city centre."

Darkness, cold and the unexpected restoration of electricity had lured people back inside last night, but they expected little sleep. "We have been ferrying in water from a spring, but there is not much food left," said Dr Miller. "Tomorrow we will have to look for supplies.

"As I look out now, everything is very quiet and the fires seemed to have burned low. Only in the morning will we find out what has happened to all the people we know here."