Japan after the earthquake: 'People were very stoic'

EXCLUSIVE: Nancy Macdonald reports from Toyota City, Japan

Maclean’s Vancouver-based correspondent Nancy Macdonald was on assignment in Japan when the earthquake hit Thursday. She spoke with Maclean’s Vancouver bureau Chief Ken MacQueen.

Q: Glad to know you’re safe, could you tell me where you are?
A: Hi Ken, thanks, I’m in Toyota City in southern Japan, two hours south of Tokyo on the fast train.

Q: Where were you when the quake hit?
A: I was headed from Toyota City to Nagoya and then to Tokyo. I was in a taxi on the highway when it hit. The first sign I had was the taxi started swerving left and right.

Q: Did you understand what was happening?
A: No, I didn’t. The taxi had the radio on, and it reminded me of that old War of the Worlds scene where the radio announcer cuts in [with news of a disaster]. The building he was in was shaking, he was looking outside the window, describing boats being pulled out to the ocean. Then he was saying ‘Oh my God, and buildings are being pulled out to the ocean.’ I had someone in the car with me who was translating what the radio was saying so I understood very quickly that something very serious was happening.

Q: Did the traffic stop?
A: No, we carried on. I headed to an electronics shop with the guy I was travelling with. There were hundreds of people there watching the images on the TV screens.

Q: What was the response of the public?
A: They were very stoic. I was looking around and I saw the images that you’ve seen in Canada now of the water hitting the north and grabbing cars and people. I think if I were in Canada and North America [in similar circumstances] people would have been shouting ‘Oh my god.’ No one there was. People were very stoic. No one was making any kind of noise. This is a very earthquake-prone country so they’ve seen this kind of thing happen before.

Q: There was some thought you were going to be heading north yesterday, what happened?
A: I’m here in Toyota City doing a story on Toyota. I had been speaking with the company and we’d been trying to decide whether to go to Toyota City or their new plant in Northern Japan, in which case we would have wrapped up the interview and would have been heading to Sendai Airport. That’s the airport that was [devastated], that you’ve seen the footage of, when the earthquake hit. We’re lucky we decided ultimately to do the interview in Toyota City.

Q: Japan has a reputation for being one of the best prepared countries in the world when it comes to earthquakes. You live in Vancouver, which is rather less prepared. Are you concerned about the state of preparations in your own city?
A: I am. I’m not sure how much warning people had for this quake. I think they had enough time to get under their desks. Certainly that is a concern going forward for me.

Q: Do you have an earthquake kit?
A: I don’t. Something to consider.

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