Saturday, March 12, 2011

Massive damage and casualties from Japan's Tohoku Earthquake

A tsunami rushes toward a neighborhood in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture.

In a more Japan-focused update of this post, the death toll from yesterday's devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake is at least in the hundreds as so many people were swept away by the ensuing tsunami that struck the area. My hearts and prayers go out to all the people suffering from this terrible disaster. No doubt the people of northern Japan need a great deal of assistance.

Though I grew up mostly in Southern California, I've been lucky to experience a quake no more than the magnitude-5 range. California has suffered major quakes in my lifetime, but I was in Korea when the Northridge quake hit in 1994 ("just" 6.7), and the 1989 Loma Prieto quake that struck the Bay Area (a "mere" 6.9) was far too away from Orange County for us to be affected by it.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake (aka Kobe Earthquake) that struck Kansai in 1995, one year to the day after the Northridge quake, was initially rated at 7.2 but was downgraded to 6.8. I may be miscalculating, but I believe an 8.9-magnitude quake would be a hundred times more powerful. If in the end there is less death and destruction than in Kobe and its environs in 1995, in which over 6000 people lost their lives, it may be because northeastern Honshu is considerably less densely populated, and perhaps because of changes in earthquake-proof construction since that devastating quake. 

Here in Hawaii, Japanese residents are having difficulty reaching relatives. I've sent emails to several people I know in northern Japan. An old friend from Korea, a Japanese teacher named Akiko, lives in Sendai, which was among the hardest hit by the tsunami.

I would like to link to The Japan Times, but the site appears to be down or overwhelmed. 

The New York Times has extensive coverage here

The Los Angeles Times has a slideshow of pictures of the devastation in Japan.

In the K-blogosphere, GI Korea has extensive coverage at The ROK Drop, as does The Marmot's Hole. So far Japan Probe has nothing.

Godspeed, everyone.

UPDATE 1:
Japan has declared an emergency at one of its nuclear plants:
A Japanese nuclear plant was operating in an emergency, battery-powered cooling mode sixteen hours after an earthquake knocked out its two main sources of the electrical power needed for safe shutdown. But the International Atomic Energy Agency said that "mobile electricity supplies have arrived at the site” to keep the crisis at the crippled plant from worsening.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government said the plant was releasing steam with a "very small" amount of radioactive material to relieve pressure in one reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The government declared an "atomic power emergency" and told people within 1.8 miles to evacuate, a difficult challenge in the midst of a natural catastrophe.
Like South Korea, Japan has a good safety record for its nuclear power. Despite the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami, I am sure they have effective contingency plans to deal with this.

UPDATE 2:
Some 45,000 people have been evacuated from the area around the nuclear power plants.

UPDATE 3:
Air service between Japan and Korea has mostly been restored.

Also, "Y" and her family back in Japan are all okay. Ditto with the family of "M." Still checking on "A" and "Mo."

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