“OUR interpreters were shrieking and the look of panic on the faces of company staff we were meeting told us it was bad,” is how a Hawick mill boss described the terrifying moment he found himself caught up in the earthquake which rocked Japan last week.
Although Nick Bannerman, managing director of Johnstons, had been in a business meeting several hundred miles away from the area worst affected by last Friday’s enormous 9.0 magnitude quake, he has told of how he found himself high up in a skyscaper as a powerful aftershock hit.
Mr Bannerman, who was in the Far East for a week in his role as a non-executive director of the Baillie Gifford Japan Trust, which invests in Japanese companies, as well as meeting with the Johnstons Japan sales manager in Tokyo, told the Hawick News: “I had been in Tokyo until Thursday where we felt an aftershock after the first earthquake had hit the Sendai area the day before.”
He had also been awoken through the night by numerous aftershocks which made his hotel building creak and sway.
But describing the following day which would bring catastrophe to Japan, Mr Bannerman said: “Luckily we had moved south to Osaka, but were in a meeting when the big one hit.
“Although were in Kyoto, 600 miles south of Sendai, the aftershock was still very strong.
“On both days we were in office blocks at around the 20th floor and it felt like being on a boat, quite queasy, as the room started to move and the building swayed then shook.”
With the Japanese people around him visibly shocked, Mr Bannerman also admitted it was unnerving. He said: “I remember thinking there’s little I can do if this goes wrong, being so far up in a building. Everyone was very scared, and our interpreter, with two small kids at home, was frantically trying to get through on her phone to check they were okay.”
Friday’s earthquake measured as the worst in Japan since records began, and as the scale of the disaster began to esculate, Mr Bannerman has revealed that some of those directly in the path of the deadly wave that followed only had seven minutes to save themselves. He explained: “The tsunami warning was sent out three minutes after the quake and cut across all television and radio programmes, plus towns usually have warning sirens, but it hit seven minutes later, which is simply too fast for many to get clear.”
And highlighting the gravity of the scenario, the Mansfield Road boss said he compared it to only having five minutes to get into the hills around Hawick on a Friday afternoon while trying to find family. “It doesn’t bear thinking about,” he added
This point was the final day of the week-long business trip and everyone was able to fly out of Kansai Airport the following morning, as Tokyo’s airport was closed. And Mr Bannerman was relieved to hear his Johnstons colleague in Tokyo, Hiro Yamaguchi – where the aftershock had been a lot worse – was also safe.
Having arrived back home himself on Saturday night, the factory boss reflected: “People were obviously shocked and upset in Japan, but their resilience and polite manner in the face of such tragedy is quite humbling.”