This is a follow-up to my earlier post about today’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I wrote my previous post on my cell phone during my lunch break, so I couldn’t provide many details easily. Unfortunately, I had to work until 9pm, so I couldn’t learn more about the disaster until now.
So here’s what happened:
At 2:46pm today, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit northeastern Japan. It hit around Sendai – there’s already a Wikipedia page about it! According to that page, this has been named the “2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake” (東北地方太平洋沖地震 /tōhoku chihō taiheiyō-oki jishin).
This picture (from Wiki) shows where the earthquake occurred:
Just to give you a rough idea of the distance, the epicentre was about 400km north-east of Tokyo, and I am about 215km south of Tokyo (I think!). This map doesn’t even show Hamamatsu (in Shizuoka Prefecture), where I live, which shows just how far away I am from the main area that was affected. Still, we did feel it here and some of the nearby coastal areas have been evacuated due to tsunami warnings.
The earthquake triggered a tsunami warning for many countries, not just Japan (as I write this, it is reaching Hawaii, but seems to have lost some of its strength, which is good). At 3:50pm a 10-metre high tsunami hit around the Sendai area, and seems to have caused most of the damage. The BBC has a detailed report on the earthquake and tsunami here. They are saying that it is “the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan since records began“. The live coverage video on the BBC site shows some really shocking images of cars, boats and buildings being swept away by tsunami waves. I can’t even comprehend what I’m seeing when I watch it – it’s like everything is just being engulfed.
When I switched on the TV here, every channel was reporting on the disaster and every channel had some variation of the map below, which shows (I think) the areas most at risk of the tsunami.
I found this news report from Bloomberg on YouTube which shows also the level of destruction in Japan today:
The number of dead and injured hasn’t been confirmed yet, but reports I read said at least 300 bodies had been found. It’s just awful. As I write this, Kyodo is reporting 88,000 people missing. (UPDATE: This number, which I got from Kyodo, seems to have been largely over-estimated. Reports are now saying 500 – 600 people missing.) A passenger train has been derailed and another is “missing”. Many people are stranded in the Tokyo area, unable to get home because the trains have been stopped. Some people have started trying to walk home, and convenience stores are reported to be giving out free bottles of water to aid them on their journeys.
One of the problems Japan is now facing is the risk of damage to the nuclear power plants. There is a power plant in Fukushima, about 270km northeast of Tokyo, in Onahama City. Reports say the plant is not leaking radiation, but 3,000 residents have been evacuated within a 3km radius, and those living within a 10km radius were told to stay home. A “state of atomic power emergency” has been declared.
Japan is a country which is well prepared for earthquakes. Buildings are designed to wobble instead of come crashing down. Kids are trained at school and learn what to do in the event of an earthquake.
In fact, small earthquakes happen almost every day here. But nothing like this has happened in Japan before. However, since the Kobe earthquake in 1995, authorities have been preparing for the next one and improving procedures in the event of another earthquake. Reports I listened to on the BBC said that Japan should be much better prepared this time. When I spoke to my students this evening, people seemed generally calm about the whole situation (whereas my American co-worker and I were pretty much freaking out!).
Anyway, this was supposed to be a concise summary of the current situation in Japan, but I’ve rambled on because as I’ve been writing I have been listening to live news reports on the BBC and replying to concerned messages from friends and family (thank you!). So I will leave this post here, and just say that my thoughts are with everyone in Japan today – not just those in the affected area, but also those living elsewhere, who are perhaps worried about friends and family. If you are worried about someone that you can’t get in touch with, you might want to try the new Google Person Finder Tool.
Take care, everyone!