As everyone who isn’t a shag on a rock should be aware by now, there has been a series of rather large (i.e. massive) earthquakes in the Tohoku region of Japan. I’ve spent most of yesterday and this morning checking on friends & clients and trying to get some decent information. As usual, the media circus is nauseating and English news sources aren’t being particularly accurate or useful.
The epicentre was 120kms east of Sendai city in the Pacific ocean – about 300 kms northeast of Tokyo. Areas worst affected in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures are circled in red.
I lived in the neighbouring prefecture, Tochigi for a total of 3 years, and of those three years in a small mountain village very near the prefecture border for 12 months. I often visited Fukushima & Miyagi and caught several ferries from their now washed-away harbours.
The airport being shown on the news is quite close to the coast and just south of Sendai city. You can just see the edge of the tarmac in the lower right-hand corner of the pic below:
There doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of damage in central Sendai city itself- with some damage to buildings and some fires caused by ruptured gas lines. The damage is concentrated in the smaller fishing villages and factories along the coast. The initial wave hit 15mins after the earthquake and was travelling at 40km/hr as it washed over the lower-laying areas.
Tokyo recorded level “5-strong” on the Japanese magnitude scale. The Japanese magnitude scale ranges from levels 1-7 and reflects how the earthquake felt & what happens to buildings and furniture. Miyagi prefecture was rated level 7 and surrounding prefectures 6 & 5. In Tokyo there was some damage to buildings and several people were injured from falling debris and furniture. All trains in the greater Tokyo metro area were stopped due to the continuing aftershocks and people were encouraged to spend the night in their offices or designated evacuation areas.
Many people chose to walk home or line up for hours for buses and taxis. I had an email from a friend in the early hours of this morning saying she’d just arrived home after her four-hour walk to her house on the eastern-side of Tokyo.
Several of the train lines in Tokyo have since re-opened, but many are still stopped.
It was the largest earthquake felt in Tokyo for quite some time. Although Japan experiences quakes on a daily basis, most are small and short and go relatively un-noticed. Anything level 3 and 4 is generally felt and people will stop and say, “Oh, it’s an earthquake” and carry on their daily business. Level 5 and ‘5-strong’ makes building sway quite dramatically and will knock things off shelves and walls, put cracks in walls, occasionally collapse ceilings and cause a variety of ‘low-level’ damage in buildings that are built with earthquakes in mind. If a level 5-strong earthquake happened in Perth I would imagine there would be huge damage as the building code is quite different.
This earthquake also continued for a very long 3 minutes making it very noticeable to people over a wide area.
Japan has a very good tsunami warning system with loud-speakers along the coast warning people to get to high ground as soon as seismic activity is registered. Messages are also flashed on the tv on all stations and radio announcements are made. However, people had only 15 minutes to get away from the coast before the tsunami hit, so it’s unlikely they had sufficient time.
The Sendai area is most famous for Matsushima, a very scenic area just off the coast that is dotted with 260 pine-tree covered islands and is designated as one the three most scenic spots in Japan along with Miyajima shrine and Amanohashidate land-bridge. Taking a cruise around the islands and then feasting on oysters is (was) a popular past-time for ten of thousands of visitors a year.
I can’t get any information about the damage here, but I would imagine that this area has been devastated by the tsunami.
An evacuation area of 10kms has been created around the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear power plant as the cooling mechanisms have failed and a back-up generator has been unable to be connected. They have released a pressure valve that has released steam containing small amounts of radioactivity. They’re working on connecting the generator to contain the situation.
Power and gas supplies are still cut off for 4.5 millions homes across Japan. There is snow falling in parts of the northern areas as it is still very much winter there. Water and sewerage have also been cut in the region.
The death toll as of 11:40 am Perth time stands at 1400 across six prefectures. Three whole trains travelling along coastal rail lines are still unable to be located/contacted. A boat washed out to sea with 110 people on board was found and all people aboard brought to safety. The number of missing people is still unconfirmed.
My prayers go out to all affected.