Jammed phone lines frustrate expats trying to check on loved ones

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am

Jammed telephone lines frustrated many Japanese citizens living in Hong Kong as they tried to contact family and friends back home after leaving classes and work early yesterday.

About 13,000 Japanese live in the city.

Two hours after the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan hit news headlines, Japanese international schools in Hong Kong emptied, as teachers and students were sent home before the final bell.

Office workers were given permission to go home so they could check if their families were safe.

One man, who has been working in the city for six months, said he left his office three hours earlier than usual, at 3pm. He said only top management stayed in the office.

'I was just so worried,' he said. 'So many people were trying to call [their families in Japan] and could not get through.'

After hours of calling he managed to reach his family who live in southern Japan, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he knew his head office in Tokyo was safe as well.

Yokomizo Tetsushi, general manager of Prime Polymer Asia in Hong Kong, heard about the quake from friends. 'Of course I'm scared,' he said. 'My family lives in Chiba.'

News reports showed Cosmo Oil's refinery in Chiba - east of Tokyo - ablaze after the quake. News about the fire and tsunami made Tetsushi anxious.

After dialling for two hours, he succeeded in reaching his wife and found everyone was safe, although his children were scared.

'The shaking was serious,' he said. 'The family ran outside the house, waiting for it to stop. Almost all the roads were packed with cars.'

His colleague, whose family also lives in Chiba, had yet to reach family members five hours after the quake hit.

Masato Kajimoto, a journalism lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said he was working at home when he heard about the earthquake on Twitter, right after it happened. He immediately turned on the television to find out more information.

'I feel very bad,' he said. 'It reminds me of all those big ones, the Hanshin earthquake in 1995, the Sichuan earthquake and the recent New Zealand earthquake, where some Japanese students died. At the moment I do not know the situation, but I am sure the casualty rate will be very high.'

He said he tried to phone his parents in Nagoya for three hours until he finally got in touch and found they were alright.

'Obviously on this kind of occasion it is really hard to get through,' he said.

A spokesman for the Japanese consulate-general said about 30 people called and asked for help.

Most of them were Hongkongers who had friends or families in Japan wishing to know more about the situation.