I’m taking a break from the regular schedule today to talk a little more about what’s been going on in Japan lately. As you’ve probably already heard, Japan was hit by a major earthquake (anywhere from 8.6 – 9 depending where you get your info) Friday afternoon. The quake itself actually didn’t do all that much damage (Japan builds everything to be highly earthquake resistant) but the tsunamis that followed completely devastated some towns and cities along the Northeastern coast. I’ve seen pictures and videos on the news and it’s not good. The full death toll is still unknown (officially it’s around 2000 now but could end up being considerable higher) and quite a lot of people lost their homes and businesses. If you’d like to donate to help the disaster relief effort, you can find a list of trustworthy aid organizations here.
Outside of the Northeastern coastal areas the rest of the country isn’t too badly off. There have been a lot of aftershocks (pretty small for the most part), and the earthquake did start a few fires (mostly minor) but it’s more just put everyone on edge. I spent some time today walking around in Tokyo and you really couldn’t tell that there was a quake. However, things are certainly a bit more subdued. There aren’t quite as many people out and a number of shops and restaurants are closed (though quite a lot re-opened today and it’s looking like the rest will open in another day or two). Then there’s the trains. While they started running again Saturday morning, they’re running a bit less frequently and a few lines still aren’t in service. There’s also been a huge run on rice, bottled water, and bread at every grocery and convenience store. Though it looks unlikely that any areas other than the ones worst hit by the tsunami will experience shortages.
Then there’s the situation at some nuclear power plants. As a quick recap, Japan’s nuclear plants shut down (as they’re supposed to) in response to the quake. However, the tsunami knocked out the backup cooling systems at a few of them. I’ve been following the news and despite some headlines which make it sound like the end of the world as we know it, a full meltdown at any of the reactors is looking pretty unlikely. And, even if such a thing did occur, it would probably be contained to a relatively small area. While some are already under control, it could be a few days before they’re sure that everything will be ok at the Fukuhima plant. So it’s keeping folks a bit on edge. Plus, with so many power plants shut down (most just temporarily), Tokyo is going to have some rolling blackouts over the coming days (quite possibly the coming weeks).
And that’s how things are. To summarize:
1. The earthquake was bad but most damage was caused by the following tsunami.
2. While some towns and cities were devastated, the majority of the country received no serious damage.
3. The situation with the nuclear plants, while tense, hasn’t escalated into a full blown disaster scenario and seems unlikely to do so.