Escape from Japan took family three days

Deborah Hepples Motomura.
Deborah Hepples Motomura.
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A BLYTH-born mum and her two sons endured a three-day journey last week to escape disaster-hit Japan.

Deborah Hepples Motomura, pictured, and her twin boys, 14-year-old Sam and Luke, set out on the 68-hour journey last Thursday evening and only landed at Newcastle Airport on Sunday night after taking five different flights.

They had been due to visit Blyth for a three-week holiday, but amid the chaos caused by the record-breaking nine-magnitude earthquake on March 11 and subsequent tsunami, they faced an uphill struggle to leave the country.

The 46-year-old, who moved to Japan to teach English in 1989, lives in Morioka with her Japanese husband 60 miles from the coast wiped out by the giant tsunami waves.

She regularly embarks on the 45-minute journey by bullet train to Sendai, one of the worst-hit parts of the country.

When the earthquake hit Morioka, it had a magnitude of between five and six on the Richter scale.

She said: “The main thing I can remember is that it was very long. I’ve been in earthquakes a lot and most last five to ten seconds but this one went on and on and on and on.

“It was going sideways. I was in the house and I could hear things starting to shake.

“I thought everything was going to fall. Our house is quite exposed and the next thing I thought would happen was the house was going to break up.

“There were a lot of aftershocks which were as big as any earthquake I’ve experienced.

“When we were at the airport in Tokyo there was an aftershock and it was four and I hardly felt it.”

She said she realised how bad it had been when the electricity did not come back on. They were subsequently left without power for two days and water for one

She said: “I tried phoning my mum and I tried phoning my sister but I was getting an engaged tone. So I phoned my uncle, knowing that he would not be on the phone at that time of night.

“That was engaged too and that’s when I realised that I couldn’t connect with the UK.”

Deborah’s mum Eileen Hepples had an agonising two day wait for news of her daughter and grandchildren until Deborah managed to post a brief message on facebook to let people know she was safe, before her husband’s mobile phone ran out of power.

By then the family had discovered the extent of the damage elsewhere, through a portable battery operated television.

Eileen faced an anxious wait for news from her daughter until she saw the message, which read: “I am ok. Stuck no elec.”

She said: “For two days I was glued to the TV. The foreign office was treating her as a missing person.”

Deborah said food shortages caused chaos at the local supermarket as people queued up for hours to pick up rationed essentials.

She said: “It was the first time I had been in a situation like that. One day there would be eggs, the next there would be milk and they ran out of paper products.

“I have never been in a war but I can imagine what it must have been like. I’ve been to eastern Europe before the wall came down and although I was just a tourist then, it was comparable to that.”

Deborah continued: “I felt last week that the world was focusing on what might happen in Fukushima, which would be a really big disaster, and of course people are worried.

“But we are more concerned about what has happened to people from the coastal towns, making sure they have food and shelter, so obviously our focus was completely different.”

Depending on what happens in Fukushima, Deborah and the boys are still intending to return to Japan a couple of weeks’ time.

She said: “I’ve lived through earthquakes before, but nothing as close to home as this.

“The area we live in is like Northumberland, there are lots of sheep and cows and we like to believe it’s a very safe and clean environment to live in.

“When something like this happens it’s like a wakeup call that no place is safe.

“Imagine that you are living in Rothbury and a tsunami hits Blyth, and you then have to travel through Newcastle to get to York.”

Deborah added: “Things will get back to normal but it’s not going to happen all at once.”