March 12th, 2011
(Reuters) - Survivors of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami huddled over heaters in emergency shelters on Saturday as rescue workers searched a mangled coastline of submerged homes, wrecked cars and stranded boats.
Aerial footage showed buildings and trains strewn like children's toys after powerful walls of seawater swamped areas around the worst-hit city of Sendai, about 130 km (80 miles) from the earthquake's epicenter.
"Everything is so hard now," said Kumi Onodera, a 34-year-old dental technician in Sendai, a port of 1 million people known as the "City of Trees" and cradled by dormant volcanoes.
Onodera said her ordeal the night before was "like a scene from a disaster movie".
"The road was moving up and down like a wave. Things were on fire and it was snowing," she said. "You really come to appreciate what you have in your everyday life."
Adding to the panic, radiation leaked from an unstable nuclear reactor in Fukushima prefecture, near Sendai.
In districts around Fukushima city, survivors lined up for drinking water in town centers, filling teapots and plastic containers. Japan deployed tens of thousands of Self-Defense Force officers to search for missing people.
In Iwanuma, not far from Sendai, nurses and doctors were rescued after spelling S.O.S. on the rooftop of a partially submerged hospital, one of many desperate scenes. In cities and towns across the northeast, worried relatives checked information boards on survivors at evacuation centers.
Hundreds of fishing vessels, many upturned, stood stranded in fields, pummeled by the 10-meter (33-foot) tsunami.
Japan's Kyodo News said about 300,000 people were evacuated nationwide, including 90,000 from areas near the nuclear plant, many seeking refuge in shelters, wrapped in blankets, some clutching each other sobbing.
Helicopters plucked survivors from an elementary school in Sendai. About 100 km (62 miles) further south in Koriyama, families slept in sleeping bags in a stadium.
At least 1,700 people were feared killed by the earthquake, the world's fifth-most powerful in the past century. As many as 3,400 buildings were either destroyed or badly damaged, Kyodo reported. About 200 fires had broken out.
HOARDING, LONG WAITS FOR SUPPLIES
Off Japan's northeastern coast, an oil tanker lay eerily stranded in shallow water. Inland, in Sendai, a black mini-van perched perilously on a metal post.
In one town, Minamisanriku in Miyagi prefecture, as many as 9,500 were people could not be contacted, about half its population, Kyodo reported.
Cellphones remained down for much of the region and more than 5 million people were without power.
In Mito, another town in the area, long lines formed outside a damaged supermarket as hundreds waited for medicine, water and other supplies. Supplies ran low as people stocked up, not knowing how long it would take for fresh goods to arrive.
"All the shops are closed, this is one of the few still open. So I came to buy and stock up on diapers, drinking water and food," Kunio Iwatsuki, 68, told Reuters.
In Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened village in far-northern Iwate prefecture, survivors scrambled to retrieve their belongings, at times clambering over uprooted trees and overturned cars to reach leveled homes.
By evening, many gathered in the village's evacuation center, keeping warm around fires.
The Japan Rail service was in chaos, some of its cars buried in mud or laying twisted on farmland. Four trains in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures were missing.
Oil leaked from a refinery into the harbor of Shiogama City in Miyagi.
In Tokyo, where many have long feared the prospect of another monster earthquake of the scale that killed about 140,000 people in 1923, residents struggled to come to terms with damage inflicted on the country and their city.
Some were relieved the damage in the capital was not greater, but many remained panic-stricken about the continuing chaos elsewhere, especially as radiation leaked from the nuclear reactor in Fukushima prefecture.
"People make manuals for earthquakes, but when the earthquake actually happens, can you actually follow the manual?" said 60-year-old officer worker Kiyoshi Kanazawa.
"Everyone runs away when things are shaking, and they ask you to stop the gas and fire in your house, but you do not have enough space for this in your brain."
(Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Photos compiled by Conservative Refocus
March 12th, 2011
On behalf of the EESC, I should like to express my sympathy with all the families of the victims in Japan. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all the people now struggling with the unfolding devastating effects of the earthquake in the Pacific region.
The human and material damage is immense, and the EESC members’ thoughts are with the Japanese people and government.
We express our support to our partners in those ACP countries potentially affected by this natural disaster.
This is a time for solidarity, and we urge the EU and other international organisations to provide immediate and appropriate assistance, if needed, to help governments and civil society organisations in the region deal with this tragedy. We also call on humanitarian civil society organisations to react quickly to provide support to Japan and all the other affected countries.
The earthquake and tsunami will clearly have a severe impact on the economic and social activities of the region. Some islands affected by climate change have been hit. Has not the time come to demonstrate on solidarity – not least solidarity in combating and adapting to climate change and global warming? Mother Nature has again given us a sign that that is what we need to do.
March 12th, 2011
By ERIC TALMADGE and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press
IWAKI, Japan – An explosion at a nuclear power station Saturday destroyed a building housing the reactor, but a radiation leak was decreasing despite fears of a meltdown from damage caused by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, officials said.
Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the explosion destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed, but not the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor.
That was welcome news for a country suffering from Friday's double disaster that pulverized the northeastern coast, leaving at least 574 people dead by official count.
The scale of destruction was not yet known, but there were grim signs that the death toll could soar. One report said four whole trains had disappeared Friday and still not been located. Local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed.
Edano said the radiation around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had not risen after the blast, but had in fact decreased. He did not say why that was so.
Officials have not given specific radiation readings for the area, though they said they were elevated before the blast: At one point, the plant was releasing each hour the amount of radiation a person normally absorbs from the environment each year.
Virtually any increase in ambient radiation can raise long-term cancer rates, and authorities were planning to distribute iodine to residents in the area, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iodine counteracts the effects of radiation.
The pressure in the reactor was also decreasing after the blast, according to Edano.
The explosion was preceded by puff of white smoke that gathered intensity until it became a huge cloud enveloping the entire facility, located in Fukushima, 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Iwaki. After the explosion, the walls of the building crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame.
Tokyo Power Electric Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said four workers suffered fractures and bruises and were being treated at a hospital.
"We have confirmed that the walls of this building were what exploded, and it was not the reactor's container that exploded," said Edano.
The trouble began at the plant's Unit 1 after the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it spawned knocked out power there, depriving it of its cooling system.
The concerns about a radiation leak at the nuclear power plant overshadowed the massive tragedy laid out along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) stretch of the coastline where scores of villages, towns and cities were battered by the tsunami, packing 23-feet (7-meter) high waves.
It swept inland about six miles (10 kilometers) in some areas, swallowing boats, homes, cars, trees and everything else.
"The tsunami was unbelievably fast," said Koichi Takairin, a 34-year-old truck driver who was inside his sturdy four-ton rig when the wave hit the port town of Sendai.
"Smaller cars were being swept around me," he said. "All I could do was sit in my truck."
His rig ruined, he joined the steady flow of survivors who walked along the road away from the sea and back into the city on Saturday.
Smashed cars and small airplanes were jumbled up against buildings near the local airport, several miles (kilometers) from the shore. Felled trees and wooden debris lay everywhere as rescue workers coasted on boats through murky waters around flooded structures, nosing their way through a sea of debris.
According to official figures, 586 people are missing and 1,105 injured. In addition, police said between 200 and 300 bodies were found along the coast in Sendai, the biggest city in the area near the quake's epicenter.
The true scale of the destruction was still not known more than 24 hours after the quake since washed-out roads and shut airports have hindered access to the area. An untold number of bodies were believed to be buried in the rubble and debris.
Meanwhile, the first wave of military rescuers began arriving by boats and helicopters.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops joined rescue and recovery efforts, aided by boats and helicopters. Dozens of countries also offered help. President Barack Obama pledged U.S. assistance following what he called a potentially "catastrophic" disaster. He said one U.S. aircraft carrier was already in Japan and a second was on its way. Washington has also dispatched urban search and rescue teams, according to U.S. Ambassador John Roos.
More than 215,000 people were living in 1,350 temporary shelters in five prefectures, or states, the national police agency said. Since the quake, more than 1 million households have not had water, mostly concentrated in northeast. Some 4 million buildings were without power.
About 24 percent of electricity in Japan is produced by 55 nuclear power units in 17 plants and some were in trouble after the quake.
Japan declared states of emergency at two power plants after their units lost cooling ability.
Although the government spokesman played down fears of radiation leak, the Japanese nuclear agency spokesman Shinji Kinjo acknowledged there were still fears of a meltdown.
A "meltdown" is not a technical term. Rather, it is an informal way of referring to a very serious collapse of a power plant's systems and its ability to manage temperatures.
Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a Russian nuclear expert, said a Chernobyl-style meltdown was unlikely.
"It's not a fast reaction like at Chernobyl," he said. "I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe."
In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded and caught fire, sending a cloud of radiation over much of Europe. That reactor — unlike the Fukushima one — was not housed in a sealed container, so there was no way to contain the radiation once the reactor exploded.
The reactor in trouble has already leaked some radiation: Before the explosion, operators had detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1's control room.
An evacuation area around the plant was expanded to a radius of 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the six miles (10 kilometers) before. People in the expanded area were advised to leave quickly; 51,000 residents were previously evacuated.
"Everyone wants to get out of the town. But the roads are terrible," said Reiko Takagi, a middle-aged woman, standing outside a taxi company. "It is too dangerous to go anywhere. But we are afraid that winds may change and bring radiation toward us."
The transport ministry said all highways from Tokyo leading to quake-hit areas were closed, except for emergency vehicles. Mobile communications were spotty and calls to the devastated areas were going unanswered.
Local TV stations broadcast footage of people lining up for water and food such as rice balls. In Fukushima, city officials were handing out bottled drinks, snacks and blankets. But there were large areas that were surrounded by water and were unreachable.
One hospital in Miyagi prefecture was seen surrounded by water. The staff had painted an SOS on its rooftop and were waving white flags.
Technologically advanced Japan is well prepared for quakes and its buildings can withstand strong jolts, even a temblor like Friday's, which was the strongest the country has experienced since official records started in the late 1800s. What was beyond human control was the killer tsunami that followed.
Japan's worst previous quake was a magnitude 8.3 temblor in Kanto that killed 143,000 people in 1923, according to the USGS. A magnitude 7.2 quake in Kobe killed 6,400 people in 1995.
Japan lies on the "Ring of Fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur, including the one that triggered the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 countries. A magnitude-8.8 quake that shook central Chile in February 2010 also generated a tsunami and killed 524 people.
Kageyama reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Malcolm J. Foster, Mari Yamaguchi, Tomoko A. Hosaka and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, Jay Alabaster in Sendai, and Sylvia Hui in London also contributed.
March 11th, 2011
The Montreal Gazette
By Carmen Chai, Postmedia News
Initial results out of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology show that the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rattled Japan Friday shifted the earth's rotation axis by about 25 centimetres.
INGV's report, which came hours after the devastating incident, is equivalent to "very, very tiny" changes that won't be seen for centuries, though, Canadian geologists say.
Only after centuries would a second be lost as each day is shortened by a millionth of a second, according to University of Toronto geology professor Andrew Miall.
"Ten inches sounds like quite a lot when you hold a ruler in front of you. But if you think of it in terms of the earth as a whole, it's absolutely tiny; it's minute," he said.
"It's going to make minute changes to the length of a day. It could make very, very tiny changes to the tilt of the earth, which affects the seasons, but these effects are so small, it'd take very precise satellite navigation to pick it up."
The earth's rotation will now shift at a different speed because the globe's mass has been redistributed, said Michael Bostock, a University of B.C. earthquake seismology professor.
He used an analogy of a figure skater pulling in his or her arms to spin faster because weight has been reorganized.
"Ultimately, if you change the length of day, you can change the length of time a given point on earth receives sunlight and doesn't receive sunlight," he said. "But will this affect us in our lifetimes? Absolutely not."
The researchers said that while the minuscule change may be completely undetectable, it still illustrates the punch behind the Japan's massive earthquake.
Last year, NASA reported that a 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Chile shorted the day by 1.26 millionths of a second, according to computer-model calculations.
NASA had estimated that the Chilean earthquake shifted the globe's axis by about 10 centimetres, National Geographic reported at the time.
INGV, which is Europe's largest research institute to monitor geophysics, said the impact of Friday's event was "much greater" than 2004's notorious Sumatra earthquake, which clocked in at a magnitude of 9.1.
More From The Gazette
March 11th, 2011
The Weekly Standard
“Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, ‘No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.’”
“Obama Seeks a Course of Pragmatism in the Middle East,” The New York Times, March 11, 2011.
Mr. Obama is right.
If you’re president of China, people around the world who are fighting for freedom don’t really expect you to help. If you’re president of China, you don’t have to put up with annoying off-year congressional elections, and then negotiate your budget with a bunch of gun-and-religion-clinging congressmen and senators. If you’re president of China, you can fund your national public radio to your heart’s content. And if you’re president of China, when you host a conference on bullying in schools, people take you seriously.
Unfortunately for him and us, Barack Obama is president of the United States. That job brings with it certain special responsibilities. It’s a tough job—maybe tougher than being president of China. But Barack Obama ran for president of the United States. Maybe he should start behaving as one.