As well as affecting those communities directly on the coast, the Great East Japan Earthquake also cut off many inland telephone exchanges from the wider network, knocking out communications to the areas they serve.

In this account from Noriyuki Furusato, Deputy Manager, Kamaishi Service Centre, NTT East-Iwate Corporation, talks of his pride in how NTT workers helped the residents of Kamaishi re-establish contact with relatives and loved ones.

The disaster brought home to me the importance of our mission to connect people

“Because NTT East’s Iwate Kamaishi Service Center is located inland, we were lucky enough to escape any direct damage from the tsunami, but two of our major exchange buildings in the Kamaishi area — our Omachi Building and Unosumai Building — were hit by the tsunami, knocking out the region’s communications networks.

As a result, the city of Kamaishi and its surroundings became totally cut off from the world, with no electricity, and both fixed line and mobile phones rendered useless.

Using satellite mobile phones, we immediately set up emergency use public phones at the service center to enable people to check on the safety of relatives and friends. The following morning, we deployed a small parabola antenna with four phones, but as word spread, more and more people wanting to make calls turned up at the center, and long queues soon filled the premises. At the peak, over 1,000 people were queuing, and there were still queues past midnight, with some people waiting up to five hours for their turn.

Emergency restoration of access lines

By late afternoon on the second day, we were beginning to run out of fuel for our emergency on-premise generator, and it was touch and go whether we would make it to the morning. We employees decided to keep communications going around the clock as long as the fuel held out, and we stayed up all night helping people to make contact with family and friends. Luckily, some group company employees had managed to get their hands on some fuel for us, enabling us to keep the public phones running for people desperate to make contact with loved ones.

I’ll never forget the smiles on the faces of customers who had waited so long, and had finally got through after calling again and again, and the way elderly people thanked us when we redialled for them. I was also struck by the way disaster victims asked us to move women with small children to the front of the queue. Phones are designed to connect you to others, and you take them for granted in normal times, but the disaster brought home to me the importance of our mission to connect people.”

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