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Eyewitness account: 'I could hear the building cracking'

Simon Chapman, 23, a manager for an events company in Yokohama, said that the earthquake felt ‘huge’ even 200 miles from Sendai.

“I was in my office, working at my desk, when the earthquake started. They happen all the time, and they aren’t usually that serious, so people either just ignored it or made jokes about it.”

“However, rather than dying off, it started getting stronger and stronger, and as it kept growing people’s faces fell, and as it got even worse, they started to look afraid.

“I got up and went to look out of the window, and I saw all the office buildings – some of them 20 storeys high – rocking from side to side like crazy, like reeds in the wind. That’s when I realised it as going to be pretty bad.

“It was still getting stronger, so I thought to myself ‘I’m not waiting for this to get any bigger,’ and I made a run for the emergency staircase – you don’t want to get in a lift. I was the first person on my floor to do so, but I think I kind of started a mass exodus from the office, because people rushed behind me and I heard screams.

“I think it got to its worst when I was on the stairs, though I can’t be sure because I was running in a blind panic by that stage. Luckily I’m pretty sure-footed, so I didn’t fall on the stairs, but most people had to cling to the handrail as they came down.

“I could hear the building cracking as I was on the stairwell; it sounded like major, integral pieces of the building were breaking off. There were huge bangs all around me and flakes of paint cascading from the roof – and this was a fairly modern, earthquake-proof building. I didn’t feel at all safe, and just made a desperate rush for open ground.

“Outside there were loads of scared people, as all the office workers poured into the streets. There didn’t seem to be too many injuries, maybe a few people with arms in slings, but I was more interested in my own safety and the safety of my girlfriend at home, and wasn’t paying attention.

“I sprinted home to check on my girlfriend. None of the phones were working, not because the receivers were down, but because in situations like this, everyone tries to call each other at once, and the system goes into meltdown.

“My flat and girlfriend were fine, but a lot of my friends’ places are in a mess. There are pictures on Facebook of smashed plates in people’s kitchens, and on the way home, I saw a restaurant with a crack eight inches wide in its foundations.

“Aftershocks are still going on – we’ve had maybe 20 – but the main problem is transportation. The trains have all been stopped, the buses are all crammed, and everyone who has a car is in it, trying to get home. I tried to drive into Tokyo with some friends, and we travelled three minutes’ walk in an hour. I’m actually back in the office now [at 8:40!], but I’m not doing much, and I might go home early.”