Tragedy in Japan

In western Colorado, where natural disasters tend to be measured in inches of snowfall or perhaps acres destroyed by wildfire, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe that struck Japan beginning Friday.

Even the graphic video of buildings collapsing as the first earthquake struck, or films of the tsunami wiping out harbors, homes and villages, fail to convey the full extent of what has occurred.

This was an earthquake that moved the entire main island of Japan 8 to 13 feet, and may have altered Earth’s axis.

Whole villages and their citizens were obliterated by the quake and tsunami. The New York Times described the scene at one fishing village in northern Japan that rescuers finally reached Monday morning. They found no one to rescue, only bodies to recover.

The numbers give a mathematical sense of the disaster’s scale.

✔ At least 1,800 confirmed dead by midday Monday, and 2,300 missing. But officials believe the death toll will top 10,000, and may be considerably higher.

✔ Some 500,000 people are homeless and living in shelters, many of which are already low on water, food and beds.

✔ For the first time in 60 years, controlled power blackouts were planned because damage to nuclear power plants meant there was insufficient electric generation to meet the nation’s needs.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s statement of the situation —  the “worst crisis since World War II” — is as descriptive as any of the videos or news stories.

But Japan is not Haiti. The Japanese culture that emphasizes community and cooperative effort is a plus, now.

The planned blackouts were scaled back Monday because voluntary electric conservation helped ease the strain. Highways were clogged with traffic, but there was little horn honking or road rage. There was no rioting or even jostling outside stores with limited food supplies, just stoic patience. There was virtually no looting.

Our hearts go out to the people of Japan. Although we cannot fully comprehend the magnitude of their misery, we expect people in western Colorado will respond as they typically do to disasters elsewhere, and give generously to relief efforts for Japan.


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