official guestimates by japanese authorities continue to understate the damage done by last week’s earthquake and tsunami – which caused partial meltdowns in at least three nuclear power plants so far.
some news sources repeat the official line that the death toll could be as high as 10,000. but, as this video clearly shows, the city of sendai has been reduced to little more than a pile of rubble.
this was once a city of over a million people – about the population of dallas, texas.
japan has experienced devastating tsunamis in the past. indeed, the word “tsunami” is japanese. so, they have emergency systems in place to warn people about approaching tsunamis. however, this most recent tsunami was generated close to land, and people in the areas affected by the tsunami only had a few minutes warning. plus, roads, houses and other structures were damaged, and people were likely already dazed by the earthquake.
to think that a city of a million-plus people came through this devastation with less than 1 percent of the population killed is nothing more than a fantasy. much more plausible would be a loss of 10 percent. and it would not be unrealistic to think that the actual losses would be in the range of 25 to 50 percent.
rather than estimate that somewhere around 10,000 people died in the entire region affected by the tsunami, it’s more reasonable to guess that over 100,000 died in sendai alone. and sendai was not the only highly populated area destroyed. see this previous posting for more about the widespread destruction: death toll in japan in the tens of thousands.
AS RADIATION warnings escalate, food and water runs short and rumours sweep the city of another big quake coming, Tokyo’s international airport has become an outlet for this city’s fear.
Thousands of Japanese and expatriates poured into Narita Airport’s departures hall yesterday, many without tickets but carrying suitcases, looking for a way out of the country.
With flights full or over-booked, and no rooms available at any of the six largest hotels around the airport, hopeful passengers are sleeping on benches or on blankets on the floor.
New Zealander Heather Watson arrived with a ticket. Still, she got to the airport at 10am for an 8.20pm flight to the Gold Coast.
“When I got here you couldn’t move, it was so full of people. I knew it would be slow and I couldn’t miss this flight,” she said.
Having endured last Friday’s devastating earthquake, the aftershocks and now warnings of possible nuclear fallout from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant 240 kilometres to the north, Ms Watson bought a one-way ticket home.
The kindergarten teacher left behind an apartment full of furniture, having given away piles of clothes she couldn’t carry home. She doesn’t know when, or if, she’ll be back.
“I just decided it was time to go. It’s the radiation warnings, it’s the panic buying that is going on, and now they are saying there is going to be another big quake in the next few days,” she said.
“If there is going to be another big one, I don’t want to be here for it. I want to be at home with my son and my grandchildren.”
Throughout yesterday, the queues at Narita barely dimmed. Some lines snaked nearly the length of the massive departures hall.
Despite the crowds, the rush for tickets and the long lines, the mood was calm, if tense.
But even accounting for typical Japanese efficiency and extra airline staff being flown in from overseas, the sheer crush of people caused major delays. By mid-afternoon, the queue to clear immigration and customs was beyond two hours.
Work and Social Disruption Outside the Disaster Zone
Because it’s so hard to move around Tokyo at the moment, many shops are closed or running on reduced electricity, and the town has a very different feeling to three weeks ago when I arrived. The usual frantic pace of partying and shopping has died down. Many people are working from home, and my colleagues are treating the workplace as a dangerous excursion, with only two staff members going in once a day. No one wants to be far from home when the aftershock comes. Many large businesses have shut down for the week, and/or have rejigged their activities to send support to the North. The whole country has been submerged into a sombre mood, in which the frivolous ordinary lifestyle of a week ago has been, at least partly, suspended.
Cold Weather and Floods
After the tsunami came a cold snap that drove temperatures across Japan below zero. Here in steamy Beppu night-time temperatures were forecast to hit -2, and in the affected area -4. This came with heavy snow in the North. On top of this, the Spring Tide season started yesterday, leading to 8 days of above-average tide levels. The earthquake apparently lowered the coastal land by 40cm in the affected area, so tides are going to be particularly high this year and will probably inundate inland areas that would otherwise be safe. In some places the tsunami actually destroyed cities’ typhoon wave barriers – huge constructions of reinforced concrete that were smashed into pieces like lego blocks, further weakening coastal resistance to high tides and heavy weather. This is going to be a huge reconstruction task.
Evacuation, starvation and nuclear panic
Some tens of people have died in or during movement to evacuation centres, largely through the cold or lack of access to proper medicines. The self defence forces found one hospital in the exclusion zone of the power plant that had been abandoned by staff, with some 6 patients already dead. With no power supplies and limited transport in or out, some hastily-established evacuation centres have received no medicine before Friday. On Friday I saw an interview with a nurse who was the only medical professional in an ad hoc evacuation centre in a school, that had been formed by the local city office. They had no power, no lights, and only the medicine they could scrounge up from the immediate vicinity; and no way to get in or out for more. This nurse had spent 6 days managing the health complaints of 200 or so evacuees – including injuries – while waiting for some kind of help to get through. She had organized medical charts, lists of needed medicines, and treatment regimens as best she could, but had obviously run out of everything she needed by Friday, when the first self defence force supplies reached her. In the interview she was composed but clearly at the end of her tether. Can you imagine being forced to take responsibility for such a task, with nothing more at your disposal than your own ingenuity?
I think that the evacuation and resupply task has been made much harder by the nuclear panic, because people leaving the areas are clogging roads, and people unable to leave are scared to go outside to find the support material they need. Not to mention the occasional moments of callous terror evidenced in people abandoning their patients during evacuation.
Japan today banned the sale of food grown in the area around the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant after milk and spinach was found to be contaminated with radiation.
As engineers worked to rewire a power supply to cooling systems, the government announced that the food grown up to 65 miles from the plant had levels of radioactive iodine that exceed official safety limits.
However they said there was no immediate risk to health, amid concerns about what effect radiation leaking from the stricken plant will have on the country.
Traces of radioactive iodine were also found in tap water in Tokyo, 135 miles from the plant.