World News

UNC student captures earthquake's aftermath

Posted March 12, 2011 12:07 a.m. EST
Updated March 12, 2011 11:19 p.m. EST

— After he felt the earth shake Friday, a student from the University of North Carolina, studying at Tokyo's Waseda University, grabbed his camera to capture the aftermath. 

August Armbrister's video of an oil refinery fire played over and over on CNN in the hours after an earthquake rocked the Pacific Ocean, setting off an ocean-wide tsunami.

The 8.9 magnitude quake struck more than 200 miles outside Tokyo, but it was enough to trigger a fire at an oil refinery near where Armbrister is staying. The Cosmo Oil refinery produces about 220,000 barrels of oil a day.

"This is crazy," Armbrister could be heard saying. 

He has a double major in international and area studies and Asian studies and he is one of 23 Phillips Ambassadors from UNC studying in Asia this academic year.

A North Carolina State University grad training to be an English teacher in the city of Akita was even closer to the quake's epicenter. Colin Charles said he has tried to reach out to friends in neighboring Iwate prefecture, where the earthquake sent huge surges of water washing as much as six miles inland over the city of Sendai.

"I doubt they have power," he said. Cellular phone service has also been spotty. 

"I am just waiting for news to come in," he said.

Charles, of Windsor, quickly understood the significance of what was happening when he saw file cabinets shake in the second-floor language lab where he was working.

He has felt several quakes in his almost five years in Japan and one as recently as last week. "It's really unnerving when you feel the ground shaking beneath your feet," he said.

The length of the tremblor – Charles said it lasted about two minutes – led him to believe the damage would be severe. "I thought, 'This may be a really big earthquake,'" he said.

Power went out in Akita almost immediately and stayed off for about 24 hours. Charles and his friends were only able to get snippets of news by watching video on their cell phones. 

"It seemed like it was total chaos," he said.

It was only after the power was restored that Charles grasped the vastness of the damaged area. "I was just amazed at the damage over such a huge area," he said.

"Actually being here, seeing places I know totally washed away, I can't describe it."

Charles asked for prayers and thoughts for the people of coastal Japan where tens of thousands have seen their homes washed away.

The official death count stood at 686 Saturday night, but thousands of people in scores of towns had not yet been reached. The government said 642 people were missing and 1,426 injured.