Former Dunedin student fears for Sendai kindergarten

John McLaughlanHis family in Sendai may have survived the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but a former Dunedin man has grave fears for the devastated city he once called home.

John McLaughlan (35) moved from Christchurch with his Japanese wife, Kasumi, to the Japanese city two years ago.

"I just can't believe both places have been hit."

The former University of Otago student said he feared the kindergarten near the low-lying Sendai port where he used to teach English might have been wiped out by Friday's magnitude 8.9 quake.

"I just hope they were evacuated."

Mr McLaughlan, who now lives in nearby Akita prefecture on the other side of Honshu Island, said he was on the fourth floor of his conversation school building when the quake hit.

"I just remembered that image of that CTV building in Christchurch where the elevator shaft was still standing, so I ran in the direction of the lift.

"It was the strongest earthquake I ever felt and went on for minutes."

The city experienced power problems as a result of the quake and heavy snow started to fall, but Mr McLaughlan was able to watch the tsunami drama unfold on his cellphone, as images of Sendai's flooded port and airport were beamed throughout the world.

He confirmed his wife was safe, but efforts to contact his sister-in-law, and his brother-in-law who was visiting her in Sendai, proved fruitless, with the situationmade worse by the terrifying images coming from the area.

However, he later heard the pair were safe at an evacuation centre.

In addition to communication problems, transport systems were severely damaged and his brother-in-law and sister-in-law were unable to return to Akita.

He said Sendai was a modern city with a young population because of the large number of students living there and he was sure the city and the country as a whole could recover from the disaster.

"Japanese are very resilient, and Japan has been through disasters before."

Mr McLaughlan said the severity and frequency of the aftershocks, the tsunami and even nuclear threats as a result of the quake did not make him want to leave the country, with the recent Christchurch earthquake reinforcing his decision to remain.

The recent Christchurch quake was a hot topic in the English conversation school where he teaches, with most students indicating they had kits prepared for use if a disaster struck.

hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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