Community Comment

The scope of the disaster in Japan…

Good morning, Netizens...


I have not been ignoring the news from Japan of the earthquake and tsunami; rather I have been hoping against hope that it might begin to clarify itself, to begin to fall into some level of stability. Here we are at day three and the news from Japan, in particular the northern regions, has only continued to reflect chaos and mayhem, and given the aftershocks, some of which would easily merit front page headlines were they to happen here in the United States, it would seem we are still far from an end to the bedlam.


Perhaps one of the most-obvious statistics that leaps out at me are the aftershocks themselves. The earthquake that flattened Christchurch, New Zealand was small change compared to the initial earthquake and tsunami that swept Northern Japan. According to CNN, in the last 21 hours there have been 83 severe aftershocks, several of which exceeded 6.4 on the Richter scale. Having experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake I can assess a 6.4 earthquake, or an aftershock of that severity. One can hardly function when such a quake hits; you simply attempt to find a safe place to stand, and wait until the ground stops moving. That is hardly conducive to digging in rubble looking for survivors.


The pictures of the aftermath of the earthquake, the tsunami that swept inland shortly after the earthquake, speak for themselves. According to several sources, perhaps as many as two thousand people are either reported missing or dead in the aftermath. Entire villages are simply missing from the map, and the entire infrastructure wherever the tsunami wave hit lays in stacks of rubble. Highways are closed, the railroads not running and in most instances, people are resorting to traveling on foot. The basic commodities, such as food and water, are virtually nonexistent in the northern areas of Japan, although even the emergency responders do not know the full scope of the disaster. The numbers they of the dead and missing which the news media are currently touting are subject to change; the scope probably will change by tomorrow if not the next days. The scope of the disaster can and will get worse.


Perhaps the most uppermost part of this ongoing disaster is the uncertain status of Japan's atomic energy plants, particularly those within the impact zone to the north. According to CBS News, there were 55 nuclear power plants in Japan the day this devastation struck, and 11 of them are reported as being offline as of the time of the quake. That by itself suggests that the automatic shutdown sequences built into each plant to cope with earthquakes may have initially worked. They are designed to shut down atomic power plants whenever a quake strikes.


Unfortunately, at least one atomic plant, the Fukushima Plant, apparently has had a major malfunction, in that radioactive cesium and iodine have been detected in the air outside the containment area shortly after an explosion which has been attributed to a hydrogen gas explosion. Short of any real demographics, it would appear that a partial core meltdown has taken place. Sea water is being pumped into the core in an attempt to cool the reactor down before a full meltdown takes place. A twelve mile evacuation area has been declared, and according to the highest levels of the government, no serious radiation illnesses have been discovered. Yet.


However, I cannot stress loudly enough that I do not have enough facts, including an accurate count of the missing and dead, to fully address the scope of this unprecedented disaster. It may be weeks or perhaps even months before that happens.



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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.



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