The Tohoku Pacific Earthquake: Day 4

March 11th.  From early morning to around 1pm, I was doing some work and had taken a late lunch.  I have a habit of watching the Diet proceedings live on television, and on this day Prime Minister Kan responded to the House of Councillors Budget Committee regarding foreign donations.  Foreign Minister Maehara just recently resigned regarding this same problem.  He received 250,000 yen in illicit donations and Prime Minister Kan 1,040,000 yen.  Although not a significant donation, illegal is illegal, and he was pressured to resign.  It was during this House of Councillors Budget Committee session when news of the earthquake broke.  An unfamiliar alarm rang out and echoed as the earthquake hit Japan from Tohoku to Kanto.  The breaking news was about Tohoku, which was a relief, however the shaking was unlike anything I had ever felt and I moved to a place in my home where things would not fall.  The shaking was long, and the earthquake that we thought would eventually come had finally come. 
From Shibuya to Setagaya wards in Tokyo, the extent of the earthquake was mostly limited to items falling off of bookcases.  Even within Tokyo, the shaking and amount of damage differed depending on which area one was located.  Immediately after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, large aftershocks hit.  I called my mother at her home in Tokyo and was able to contact her using a landline phone, however following the large aftershocks, the calls stopped going through.  The internet continued to work as usual, and I was able to send emails to my family.  In Setagaya ward cell phones stopped working immediately after the quake.  Because landlines and cell phones continued to be out of service, I was able to use Skype to contact others.  It was possible to call a landline number from Skype, however it would not connect to a cell phone number. 

The coverage after the breaking news flash of the earthquake was quite impressive.  The station quickly switched from the live Diet session coverage to a special news program.  They quickly ran footage from after the quake as well as of the widespread damage caused by the tsunami.  Despite the fact that even Tokyo experienced tremendously strong aftershocks, the NHK announcer’s (Taisuke Yoko) demeanor was very strong and he conveyed the situation in Tohoku in a calm manner.  Although only a short time had passed, the information was conveyed in a well-organized manner.  The response and information provided by other stations was also good, yet a little more chaotic.  All of the Tokyo stations switched their schedules to special programming.  ※In Tokyo (excluding cable, CS, etc.) there are a total of 7 channels, including commercial stations.

After the damage caused by the shaking came the tsunami.  Inconceivable images came flooding across the screen.  Immediately after the earthquake, we saw images of the tsunami flowing back at the mouth of the Natori River in Sendai Prefecture, and fields and homes being swept away.  Just when we imagined that the damage could not get any worse, images of other damage and devastation from an ever-widening area continued and there were many people who did not know exactly what to do.

Aftershock and massive tidal wave alarms continue, which is affecting the quick response of rescue operations.  Currently, alarms and warnings for tsunamis have been lifted and rescue operations by the Japanese Defense Force are moving ahead at a rapid pace.  There are many who had been stranded and rescued, and the number of people who sacrificed their lives grows by the day.  The number of people confirmed dead or missing is now at 3367, but this will continue to rise.  In Miyagi Prefecture alone there are said to be 10,000 people still missing.  This earthquake was the largest ever-recorded in Japan and the fourth largest ever in the entire world.   

Prime Minister Kan’s actions on March 12th began with him traveling to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from the disaster area.  At the plant, malfunctions were found, which have become just as serious as the earthquake and tsunami.  Japan is a natural resource conservation country and promotes nuclear power, which together with Japan’s technology is sold to other countries.  There are many countries besides Japan who promote nuclear power, and even with different technologies, the desire to avert a large accident is the same.   As the coverage continues from the day before yesterday, hydrogen explosions have occurred in the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, where the box-shaped outer wall was blown away and only steel left.  The government announced that reactor containment structures and pressure vessels are sound.  
The evacuation of nearby residents was expanded to a 20km radius and according to the latest government announcement, the possibility that a large amount of radioactive matter will scatter remains low.  Over 190 people have been exposed, but expert agencies said at a press conference that the exposure was “not at a level hazardous to health.”  The number of people is expected to increase and we can only pray that this situation is resolved quickly. 

Related to the problems at the nuclear power plant is the worry of insufficient power from Tohoku down to Kanto, etc.  Yesterday TEPCO held a press conference about the government’s approval of planned power outages.  There are clearly many people confused about the situation due to the discrepancies in the planned outage area information given to the media and that on TEPCO’s website.  The main discrepancy was related to Tokyo’s 23 wards, where the information provided by the media listed only Arakawa ward, when in fact other areas were included.  The areas scheduled for outages are divided into 5 groups, with power outages of up to 3 hours at specified times.  I was shocked at last night’s 20:00 announcement because certain areas were scheduled for outages beginning the following morning at 6:20am.  
However, this morning there were no planned outages as the government and TEPCO were able to supply the power.  Many railway companies cancelled trains during the scheduled blackout time periods and decreased the number of trains running.   
The announcement regarding rolling blackouts during the morning rush hour had a tremendous impact.  Horrible crowding occurred at stations that remained open, and there were limits placed on movement toward the platforms.  Trains took more than one hour and to get to their offices, many people took routes different from usual.  Also, it took many two to three times as long to get to work.  Many people used buses and taxis from the stations that had been closed.  Even by taking the long way or detours, many Japanese salarymen (businessmen) on their way to their offices took buses and taxis to get near stations that remained in operation.  This is a picture of the Japanese people’s seriousness. 
 The thing that makes me wonder is why wasn’t emergency contact made with each company’s employees at the time of last night’s announcement by the Japanese government and TEPCO.  The railway companies’ announcements were also late, however besides having the internet, to the extent possible employees should continue to go to work.  Some companies have taken temporary days off, however we want them to consider flexible responses.  The rolling blackouts are scheduled to take place this evening in certain areas.  A further announcement regarding tomorrow onward will be made, however there are cases in which the blackouts may continue for a month.  Even in the Tohoku region rolling blackouts are scheduled to take place.

The aftershocks are still occurring and there is a 40% possibility that they will continue.  Although the situation remains unstable, we hope that those isolated in the devastated areas are rescued as soon as possible.  We want those who were lost due to the tsunami to be able to quickly rest in peace.  It will surely take time for the lifelines to the quake-hit areas to recover, however because it is still quite cold in the Tohoku region, we can only pray that the response is quick.  
The latest news is available on NHK.  Japanese: http://www.nhk.or.jp/ English: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/ (Japanese site is more detailed.)

Written on March 14th

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