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Irishman tells of 'worst quake in living memory'

AN Irishman living in Japan spoke of the terrifying earthquake that hit the country today, triggering 10-metre tsunami waves.

Andy O'Doherty (29) from Greystones, Co Wicklow, was in Tokyo's city centre when the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck about 250 miles from the capital at 5.46am Irish time.

The engineer, who has lived in the Far East for six years, managed to escape to safety.

He told the Herald that the earthquake he felt was the biggest in his and many of the locals' memory.

Experts now believe that the tremor could even be the seventh biggest since records began.

"It was scary," he said. "I have experienced quakes, but never this long and big.

"We felt it pretty strongly; me and the lads [from work] jumped under the table for about five minutes and then went outside. There were a lot of after-tremors.

"I know some of the Japanese people older than me say it's the biggest they have ever felt, too.

"The electricity is off, the phones are down and it is now getting dark and starting to rain. There is no visible damage around me, but the radio is saying roofs have been knocked off and some have died -- some fires too, at least 10 reported."

The engineer, who is fluent in Japanese, moved to the country for the first time for four years after completing his degree.

After coming back to Ireland for a short while, he returned to Japan, where he is now organising the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Tokyo. They are due to take place on Sunday, and in Yokohama, less than an hour's drive from the capital.

He explained that the local population was better prepared to deal with the natural disaster than expats.

"Japanese people don't panic. They get excited but don't panic," he said.

"They know about earthquakes, so they are somewhat prepared.

"I left work to help an Indian colleague reach his family. We're in a car. He is quite frantic because he is not used to it and his elderly parents are over from India. We are now going to check on them."

A lot of public transport has been halted, including the rapid transit in Tokyo and the bullet train service to northern Japan, where a tsunami has been sweeping the coast.

Japanese television showed a huge surge of water sweeping away buildings, cars and ships in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

The earthquake has already claimed 20 lives and about 20 people are reported to have been injured in Tokyo after the roof of a hall fell onto a graduation ceremony.

hnews@herald.ie