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Two Minutes to Noon

By Noel F. Busch

SEPTEMBER 1ST 1923 . . .At 11.58 the greatest earthquake ever known ripped Tokyo apart. Damage was inestimable.

The ground shook and opened, buildings crashed, roads buckled, trees were torn from their roots. At once fire shot up from the matchbox Japanese houses. All through the afternoon, dazed survivors wandered the streets. Then at dusk the sky turned black and the wind rose to an inhuman screech, a blistering gale that flung the tongues of flame for miles. People fled to the harbour and were caught in horror as the tide raced out only to crash in again with all the force of a fifteen-foot tidal wave. Nature had gone mad-and escape was for the few.

The Tokyo earthquake of 1923, with the huge fires and tidal waves that followed it, destroyed two of the largest cities in the world. Tokyo and Yokohama experienced a devastation that almost dwarfs the atomic damage at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thousands were killed within moments. Thousands more died in the suffocating heat and rapidly spreading flames. Trapped on bluffs, in parks, huddled together in ponds and lakes, the terrified survivors waited through the long night of searing wind and heavy tidal waves, until help could come to them.

War devastation brings a protective anger, a unifying hatred of an enemy a natural disaster calls for the most generous human courage in the face of mindless torment and despair. TWO MINUTES TO NOON is the story of those days, seen through the eyes of the people who had that courage. This is the human story behind disaster, as well as a reconstruction of the hours that turned the face of a busy city into a skeletal mask.

Noel Fairchild Busch, 1906-1985 was an author and Life magazine correspondent who reported extensively on World War II and its aftermath. He was born in Manhattan, and began his association with the Time-Life publications in 1927 when he left Princeton University in his junior year to join Time magazine as an associate editor at the invitation of his cousin, Briton Hadden, who with Henry R. Luce had founded Time in 1923.

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