Vincentian executive leaves Japan after earthquake, tsunami
March 18, 2011

Vincentian executive leaves Japan after earthquake, tsunami

Vincentian-born Kwesi Steele, who was in Japan when the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck last Friday, is expressing relief that he was able to leave that country.{{more}}

The son of Allison Steele of Rose Place and the brother of singing sensation Tabia Matthews was able to leave Japan on Tuesday, March 15, for Singapore, on the earliest flight he was able to get out of Tokyo.

Steele, who works with Google, is the Manager, Sales Strategy and Operations for Japan and Asia Pacific.

“It was relief,” Steele told SEARCHLIGHT last Wednesday evening in an exclusive interview, adding that since the earthquake struck on Friday, March 11, Japan has been experiencing aftershocks of magniture 5.0 to 6.0.

Steele, who has been on assignment in Japan since July, 2010, said although he was far away from the epicentre of the quake, he still felt the tremor strongly.

He was at work at the Mori Tower, in Tokyo, when the earthquake, which lasted several minutes, struck.

He was located about 150 miles away from Sendai city, which was destroyed by the tsunami that followed about a half hour to one hour after the quake.

Steele recalled that the quake occurred just about 2:45p.m. Tokyo time, with the epicentre being approximately 100 kilometres from Sendai.

He recounted that he was relatively calm during the quake.

“I’ll tell you why. We get earthquakes on a bi-weekly basis in Japan,” said Steele, noting that it is usual to get an earthquake about 5.0 to 6.0 magnitude.

“Every now and then, you would feel the buildings rock and no one even blinks, because it happens so often. But on Friday, the building was really rocking,” said Steele, adding that everyone knew immediately that a significant earth quake had hit.

The initial reaction is that everyone “stayed put”, said Steele, adding that some persons grabbed their emergency kits.

He said it is fairly standard for each worker in Japan to have an emergency kit under his or her desk containing survival gear such as a helmet, a fire resistant blanket, and rations, including water, because of the frequency of disasters in Japan.

Steele further noted that some persons took cover under their desks, while others sat and looked at each other in panic.

“I waited, and a few other people waited a while before they went out onto the streets, because the streets is not the place you want to be, especially with tall buildings around during an earthquake,” said Steele.

He said when he eventually went on the outside, the streets were packed. The trains had stopped automatically, and no buses were running, which left about 10 million people stranded on the streets of Tokyo, said Steele.

He said he took the 25-minute walk home, an experience he said reminded him of the World Trade Center bombing on September 11, 2001, which he experienced while living in New York City.

Regarding the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, Steele said, “That’s something that’s not a one time thing. If it happens and you are around it, you are going to be suffering for the rest of your life.

“That’s really what’s concerning people the most,” said Steele.

Steele said the situation in Japan looks worse on television than it really is.

“I want to make sure people understand, if you are watching CNN, which is looping this thing over and over and over again, you might think the world is ending and it’s starting in Japan. But it’s really not.

“People are very, very concerned about the nuclear stuff. The earthquake happened and it’s done. The tsunami happened and it’s done. It’s not a reoccurring event. It’s one time,” said Steele.

He noted however that people are still shocked and are still shaken up.

Steele said Tokyo is still relatively calm and naturally people are nervous as they would be anywhere in the world, if there happened to be a nuclear power plant that was having stabilization difficulties.

“I see some of the news reports and I think it’s very sensationalized, especially on network tv where they are vying for viewership,” said Steele.

Steele contended that the Japanese are coping well under the circumstances and will recover.

As the Strategy and Operations Leader for Google in Japan and Asia, Steele, a former student of the St. Vincent Grammar School, works with other sales leaders to formulate sales strategies and targets for the products of the countries that fall under his portfolio.

“It’s really about figuring out how to grow the business, what we need to do to grow the business, which clients we should go after, and what our business targets should be,” said Steele.