‘The school started shaking so violently, it started to collapse’

HAPPIER TIME Toby Wheeler with wife Kyoko Hirose on their wedding day in 2007
HAPPIER TIME Toby Wheeler with wife Kyoko Hirose on their wedding day in 2007
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A TEACHER from Fareham has told how terrified children screamed as the huge earthquake in Japan shook their school.

Toby Wheeler pulled children to safety in an underground shelter as buildings collapsed around them during Friday’s 8.9- magnitude quake.

People walk through the rubble in Japan

People walk through the rubble in Japan

The 34-year-old is originally from Catisfield, Fareham, but moved to the Yamanashi district of Japan, where he runs several English teaching schools.

Mr Wheeler was teaching English to a class of 30 pupils at Yamanashi Eiwa Junior High – about 200 miles from the epicentre – when the quake struck at 2.45pm local time.

He told a national newspaper: ‘It felt as if the world was about to end. The school started trembling slightly, then swaying, then shaking so violently it started to collapse. The children screamed and huddled under their desks as they are trained to, with seat cushions on their heads to protect them from falling debris.’

Mr Wheeler added: ‘The quake was so strong it seemed to pick up the school and throw it backwards.

‘The pupils were hysterical so I tried to keep them calm by getting them to sing “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes”. Outside you could hear the shattering of glass and tiles as windows buckled and the roof caved in.’

The school was hit by 19 aftershocks.

At least 1,300 people are now believed to have been killed by the tsunami, but thousands more are missing – including 10,000 from the coastal town of Minamisanriku.

The Foreign Office said there were no reports of British casualties. But, it was reported that the British embassy in Tokyo has a ‘long list’ of people who are unaccounted for.

A team of UK search and rescue specialists – including firefighters from Hampshire and West Sussex fire services – will join the massive relief mission.

Dad-of-two Toby was featured in The News in 2007 as his family travelled to Japan to celebrate his marriage to Kyoko Hirose.