A Nelson woman living in Japan spent a terrifying night in a cold and powerless building waiting with dozens of others just centimetres above the 2.5m tsunami tide full of debris that had surrounded their building.
Georgia Robinson, 25, who has been teaching English and living in Noda Mura, about 200km north of Sendai, is lucky to be alive after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that triggered huge waves that swept into northeastern Japan on Friday.
Ms Robinson told her family yesterday that she spent a stressful and cold night in the upper level of the two-storey village office building where she had been working when the quake struck.
Her mother, Brenda Robinson, said she was "elated" after her 36-hour wait for news of her daughter ended with a phone call about 3.45 yesterday morning.
That call, from the United States from the mother of her daughter's boyfriend, Zachery Branham, confirmed Georgia had survived.
But it was yesterday afternoon before Mrs Robinson knew just how close she came to losing her eldest child. "Half her village is gone."
Mrs Robinson said people in the village ignored the tsunami warning sirens that had been sounding repeatedly since an earlier 7.2-magnitude quake on Wednesday.
She said her normally laid-back daughter was quite animated as she described being evacuated from the building and then rushing back inside.
"She said it was probably 40 minutes later, a man came running across the carpark beside her building, waving his arms and shouting at the top of his voice: 'It's coming.'
"It was too late for them to go anywhere. All they could do was get to the second floor and wait.
"It started as a trickle coming across the carpark. Within a few minutes there were homes, buildings floating past. She said it was really quick.
"She said it was like being in a movie, it was very surreal and she couldn't quite believe it was happening.
"After a while, it went back out and a few buildings went the other way."
Mrs Robinson said that the next morning, Georgia had to rip up sheets to cover two bodies they found.
She was taken away from the scene by Mr Branham, her American boyfriend of seven months.
He had walked for 20 hours, from Kuji to Noda, clambering over rubble from smashed homes and washed-up car wrecks along broken roads to get to her.
It was usually a 20-minute drive, but roads were blocked and he was forced to sneak past police who tried to turn him away.
"He went to every village where she would be normally working - different schools and kindergartens - and couldn't find her," Mrs Robinson said. "Then he ran into someone who knew where she was."
Mrs Robinson said the family had spoken to Mr Branham only briefly over Skype when they talked to Georgia. "He'd walked for 20 hours looking for her ... [He's] a hero for finding her. I've said he can marry her now."