By Nitum Jain:
Japan lies in what is called the Ring of Fire, an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific which is home to most of the world’s quakes. One would think that the country must be used to earthquakes by now but the last time they faced a quake of such apocalyptic proportions was in 1923 in Kanto which claimed the lives of 143,000 people; that earthquake measured an 8.3 on the Richter scale, the recent one measured an alarming 8.9. At 2:46 pm (11:16 am ISD), 11 March 2011, a 23-foot-high tsunami slammed against the eastern Japanese coast due to the quake.
The epicentre was about 380 kilometres north-east of Tokyo but the city, along with the towns and cities along Japan’s 2100-kilometre-long-coastline, suffered major shocks which included about 50 aftershocks with magnitudes as high as 6.0. Warning was issued all over the Pacific region and minor tsunamis were also reported in Hawaii but it was only Japan that got hit hard.
Police estimated the death toll at 300 to 400 in the coastal city of Sendai, the city in Miyagi prefecture, closest to the epicenter; Tokyo reports 60. More than 350 were reported missing while 550 were found injured, but these are only the people who have been discovered, there are many yet to be accounted for.
“The earthquake has caused major damage in broad areas in northern Japan,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at a news conference.
Pictures of the catastrophe show a water-flooded inland, whirlpools with ships caught in their midst, fires blazing skywards and debris and cars bobbing up and down as they are washed away by the water. Highways buckled, electricity and phone lines snapped, railways halted and airports shut down. The Tsunami first rode the ships and the vessels inland, causing various crashes with the buildings and the highways and then drove them back out to the sea. Coast guards are busy finding dock workers and passengers washed aboard from such vessels.
The region also found itself dotted with fires, probably due to burst gas pipes; a large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in the city of Ichihara and burned uncontrollably with 100-foot flames whipping into the sky. With the streets flooded, help is proving to be a difficult task for the authorities. The Defence Ministry has sent troops to the worst-hit regions and several helicopters have been employed to reach out the needy.
Also posing as a huge threat is the damage to the various nuclear plants, though no radioactive leaks have been reported. People nearby such plants were made to evacuate nonetheless, like in the city of Onahama where the reactor’s core remained hot even after shut down.
Jefferies International Ltd., a global investment banking group, has estimated the overall losses incurred due to this natural disaster to be about $10 billion. The value of yen has already dipped on the global scene.
The biggest earthquake to hit Japan since record-keeping started in the 1800s, this one has shaken the core of the country and full recovery seems a far thought. But Japan has pulled miracles before in history, especially after the Hiroshima-Nagasaki tragedy; it can surely ride this one out too.