Vietnamese in Japan panicked by earthquakes

By Duc Trung   January 2, 2024 | 03:04 pm PT
Jolted awake by his ringing phone, Duc Phu realized that his apartment building was shaking violently.
A woman is rescued in Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture on Jan. 2, 2024. Photo handout via AFP

A woman is rescued in Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture on Jan. 2, 2024. Photo handout via AFP

After finishing his shift on New Year’s Eve, Phu, a trainee at a restaurant in Kanazawa City, capital of the central Ishikawa Prefecture, had returned to his apartment on the seventh floor to sleep in the early morning of Jan. 1, 2024.

He woke up at 4 a.m. feeling mild tremors but continued sleeping as his phone had not yet received an earthquake alert.

The second, also the most severe of the 155 earthquakes that hit western Japan on the first day of 2024, hit just moments later.

The Vietnamese trainee’s phone blared with an urgent 7.6-magnitude earthquake warning this time.

"My apartment building shook so violently that it was terrifying," he told VnExpress. "The alarm bells only added to my panic. I could only cling to the wall and pray to Buddha."

He rushed out of his apartment the moment the shaking stopped, only to realize that the elevator had ceased working, forcing him to run down the emergency stairs from the seventh floor.

He saw people gathered outside in panic when he reached the street, and aftershocks continued to take place every 20-30 minutes. When the ground finally stopped "dancing," Phu risked going back to his apartment to grab important documents and other essentials before rushing back out.

He then contacted his company and joined his colleagues in seeking shelter. They first flocked to convenience stores and found countless locals already in line.

He and his colleagues then took shelter at their company director’s private home, which was located seven kilometers from Phu’s residence. The restaurant where he was working had to halt their business as well, as all kitchenware had been shattered or broken.

Japanese authorities confirmed Tuesday that at least 48 people died in the earthquake, with the death toll expected to rise. Tsunami warnings have been lifted, but at least six strong aftershocks were recorded in the same morning.

Meanwhile, JMA warned of more earthquakes this week, especially in the next two to three days.

34-year-old Tran Thi Trang of Hodatsushimizu, a town in Ishikawa Prefecture, also a translator and administrator for the Vietnamese community in the Hokuriku region, was at a supermarket when a major tremor occurred. Feeling the ground sway, Trang panicked as she thought she would definitely die. She regained her composure after a few moments and instantly rushed towards the supermarket’s parking lot where her husband and child were waiting for her inside their car.

It was a few dozen meters from the supermarket’s door to the car park, yet Trang found it challenging to move as the ground shook.

"I ran while others screamed and fell down as they were unable to stand," she recalled. "Cars parked outside the supermarket were tilting as if they were about to topple over."

She couldn’t even get inside her car immediately and had to hold on to the door handle to steady herself.

"I was shaking with fear when I got into the car with my family."

Her family immediately drove home after that to grab their essentials, despite seeing many people driving in the opposite direction to reach shelter homes as the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) issued tsunami warnings for Ishikawa and four neighboring prefectures. Japanese TV stations also switched to special programming.

As Trang’s family reached the shelter, they realized it was a school near the sea, and thus, not safe from tsunamis. The family and other locals decided to move to higher ground.

Earthquakes are normally rare in Ishikawa Prefecture, with many local elderly residents saying they had never experienced tremors of this magnitude. Phu said his company’s director was confused as well, and he did not have any experience to share other than just encouraging people to adapt to the situation no matter what happened.

Trang’s family returned home from the shelter at around 8 p.m. They had all necessary supplies prepared with them, ready to evacuate again at any moment.

"My family has a car, but trainees and students without personal vehicles will face more difficulties," said Trang.

Hoang Quan, a trainee in Ishikawa Prefecture’s city of Wajima, where significant damage was reported, was lucky to have traveled to Hakusan, another city in the prefecture, to celebrate the New Year holiday with his friends.

The tremors occurred while Quan and his friends were having a year-end hotpot gathering, causing their dinner to spill onto the floor.

Quan later received a call from his company, informing him that his residence in Wajima had collapsed.

"I’m having to stay at a friend’s house and don't dare return to where I lived," he said. "My work has to be put on hold as well."

"Everything is uncertain now, and I just hope there are no more tremors."

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