Queenstown family’s escape from quake-hit Sendai


A Queenstown family in Japan’s tsunami-ravaged port town of Sendai has fled across mountains to escape radioactive leaks. 

Richard and Tracey Ryall packed their two young ones Cameron, 10, and Hannah, 9, into a mini and spent two days traversing mountain roads to Kyoto, 600km away. 

They took just their passports plus a few belongings – and joined a convoy of three other carloads. At one point, Richard, 47, had to siphon petrol – sucking it through a hose – for other vehicles running low. 

Richard, speaking to Mountain Scene from near Kyoto on Tuesday night, says he’s booked 42-year-old Tracey and their two children on a flight out of nearby Osaka. 

“It’s been a bit of an adventure. The day after the quake we were out in the forest collecting wood to boil water. I just want to get my wife and kids out.” 

Richard, on a gap year from Queenstown to work at an international school in Sendai, says he and fellow teachers decided to bail on Monday morning. 

“It was getting a bit out of control and we decided to get away from the action with all the nuclear power stations.” 

Sendai is “sandwiched” between the leaking Fukushima nuclear power plant – 220km away – and the Onagawa nuclear reactor, which is 55km away and has a ruptured cooling system. 

Richard says he’s since heard from friends in Sendai that officials are telling people not to go outside. 

“I think we made the right decision. There are mountains between us and nuclear reactors.” 

The Ryalls have lived in Sendai for a year and Richard says it’s a hollow feeling to leave without proper goodbyes. 

“We feel like we’ve just abandoned ship and we’re not sure whether it’s sinking. We feel we’re running away a little bit – but we have young children and have to look after them.” 

Richard was weighing up returning to Sendai to drop off the borrowed mini – and gather belongings from their home. 

“But it might not be a good time to go back.” 

Richard was at his school with his kids when the quake hit on Friday – he was amazed at how orderly things were a day later. 

“Everything was very calm – there was a system in place for food, water tanks were coming around. It was really impressive,” he says.

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