The Great Tohoku Earthquake: Part 1 – the Current Situation

Posted by Jim Ivanoff
March 16th, 2011

As people around the world watch Japan suffer the after effects of one of the greatest natural disasters in history, I am sure many of you have questions about what is happening and what the future will bring. I am not an expert on any of this, but I will try to share with you what I am seeing and hearing here.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake literally shook the entire country with shaking being reported from Kyushu to Hokkaido. According to CNN it was even felt in Beijing. In any case, it was massive and of a level that no one, not even the experts, can truly comprehend. With an earthquake of this size an “aftershock” of magnitude 7 or even 8 is expected. It will likely occur in the same general vicinity in the Pacific, but it will be either further north towards Hokkaido or further south towards Tokyo. An aftershock of that size will probably also result in another large tsunami. The timing of the aftershock is unclear. Experts said there was a 70% chance it would occur by this Wednesday. After that, within the next month is most common prediction, but as we recently saw in Christchurch it could be a half year or more away. It may also never come.

Aside from the aftershocks, “unrelated” earthquakes are taking place over a broad area. Just over 12 hours after the 9.0 quake, several magnitude 6 and 7 earthquakes hit the Nagano/Niigata area. Tuesday morning Tokyo Bay experienced a 4.1 quake and late that night the area around Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka experienced a 6.4 trembler. As you probably saw in the news, the entire main Japanese island of Honshu shifted 2.4 meters toward the Pacific Ocean and experts are saying that it is likely that all of the plates under Honshu are now trying to realign. This is what is causing the earthquakes along fault lines other than on the one on which the 9.0 quake occurred and means that more earthquakes across the region should be expected. Some people are worried that this may suddenly trigger the magnitude 8 earthquake in Shizuoka that is predicted to happen during the next 30 years.

In the foreign media such as CNN and the BBC, the nuclear situation is the main story now. It is a great concern here as well, but the government has been successful in dampening citizens’ fears of health issues resulting in the Tokyo area. The latest reports state that radiation levels in Tokyo are up to 100 times normal, but this is still well within safe levels. However, the reality is that there are four reactors in some state of meltdown with another two showing signs of potential trouble. Some people also wonder how much more punishment these reactors can take if large aftershocks continue to rattle that area. No one is predicting a Chernobyl type disaster yet, but everyone is on edge and hoping that the situation comes under control quickly. The loss of six nuclear reactors supplying the power grid has also led to rolling blackouts in greater Tokyo. Citizens are being asked to reduce electricity usage and it seems they are responding.

Foreigners are fleeing Tokyo (including me; I am now in Nagoya with much of the Canada Wood team) and many people around the world are wondering if Japan will ever be able to recover from this catastrophe. I believe that this country will recover even though it will take some time. The one thing that is questionable though is whether or not young people will return to the hardest hit areas. The area has for years already been suffering a population drain to larger urban centers such as Tokyo as the young go to look for better job opportunities. With the region’s main industries in tatters, this trend will only accelerate and it is likely that once gone these people will not return.

Japan is in a terrible situation now, but as the country rose from the ashes of WWII it will rise to meet this challenge too. I urge all Canadians to contribute to this effort in whatever form they can.

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