Makoto Nagai was sitting in his third-floor office at 2:46 p.m. March 11 when the earthquake alarm buzzed. An orange LCD screen flashed 100 and 4, telling him the number of seconds before a quake would hit.
The warning jumped to 6, said Nagai, 55, head of the emergency response team in Sendai, some 128 km west of the epicenter of what became the strongest quake in Japan’s recorded history.
“I stood up, and my coffee cup bounced sideways off my desk,” he said. “We were in an earthquake-resistant building, yet an internal wall collapsed. Then people started to scream.”
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