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''Japan Earthquake Update''



Update March 13, 2011 10:12 p.m. EST:  There was an explosion at the No. 3 reactor of the Daiichi plant in Fukushima.  This is the same plant that has experienced an explosion at its No. 1 reactor.

YTN (Korean news) reports that 2,000 bodies have been found, with possibly 40,000 dead.

Japanese stocks have dropped 5% in the wake of all the tragedy and fell below the 10,000 level.  The Bank of Japan released 1.5 billion yen into an emergency fund in a effort to stabilize the economy.

Update March 13, 2011 10:00 p.m. EST:  A new tsunami warning has been issued for the NE coast of Japan, after another powerful earthquake struck the region.  This earthquake, reported to be 7.9 magnitude, has possibly caused another tsunami, one estimated to be 3 meters (10 feet).

There are also reports that a third explosion occurred at one of the damaged nuclear power plants.

This is devastating news to an area already dealing with the aftermath from last week's record 8.9 magnitude earthquake, resulting 10 meter tsunami and problems with some of the country's nuclear power plants.  With entire villages and towns destroyed and tens of thousands of people missing or unaccounted for, it is unthinkable to imagine what will occur if another tsunami comes ashore.

~~~~~~~End Update~~~~~

The residents of northeastern Japan were jolted by a record 8.9 magnitude earthquake, Friday, followed by a 7-meter (23 foot) tsunami.  The tsunami, triggered by the earthquake, swept homes, ships and buildings out of its way leaving behind untold damage.  As if that wasn't enough, some of the damaged areas are being further ravaged by fire.

Videos of the affected areas show farmland becoming completely engulfed with debris-riddled water and vehicles trying to escape the onslaught of water.  The devastation in Miyagi Prefecture, which was the closest to the epicenter of the earthquake, is unthinkable.  

While the nuclear power plants that are currently in operation have no radiation leaks, a power plant in Onahama is under observation due to a reactor's core not cooling down after being shutdown.

While it is hard to predict the ferocity of an earthquake of this magnitude and resulting tsunami, there were warning signs that a "big one" would be occurring in Japan.  There were rumblings and enough "little" things happening in the past few years that gave cause for concern that a strong earthquake was imminent.

Unfortunately, the prediction of a powerful earthquake could not prepare Japan for the devastating tsunami that followed and consequential fires or even the strong aftershocks.  While the earthquake in New Zealand destroyed a city, the earthquake in Japan was reported to have been 8,000 times stronger.  The tsunami it created surged ashore and destroyed everything in its path for miles inland before receeding.  Unfortunately, it brings to mind the South Korean blockbuster movie, Haeundae (해운대 or Tidal Wave).  

While the Japanese are struggling to cope with the effects of the natural disaster on their island, there are others affected in decidedly less traumatic ways.  Two of the airports outside Tokyo had shut down, effectively stranding 23,000 passengers.  The impact of the closure was felt around the world as flights were cancelled and incoming flights were diverted to other airports.  

The effects of the earthquake are expected to be long-reaching with the tsunami going to the west coast of the US, Hawaii, Mexico and South America.  While Hawaii has had some of the first waves reach its shores, the damage was minimal.  

*Side note: While Japan deals with the aftereffects of their catastrophic earthquake/tsunami, we send out positive thoughts and prayers to their country and to the families directly affected by the events

The main earthquake was preceded by a number of large foreshocks, beginning with a 7.2 MW event on 9 March approximately 40 km (25 mi) from 11 March quake, and followed by another three on the same day in excess of 6 MW in magnitude. One minute prior to the effects of the earthquake being felt in Tokyo, the Earthquake Early Warning system connected to more than 1,000 seismometers in Japan sent out warnings on television of an impending earthquake to millions. This was possible because the damaging seismic S-waves, traveling at 4 kilometers per second, took about 90 seconds to travel the 373 km to Tokyo. The early warning is believed by the Japan Meteorological Agency to have saved many lives.

The earthquake occurred in the western Pacific Ocean, 130 km (81 mi) east of Sendai, Honshu, Japan. Its epicenter was 373 km (232 mi) from Tokyo, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Multiple aftershocks were reported after the initial magnitude 8.9 - 9.0 quake at 14:46 local time. A magnitude 7.0 aftershock was reported at 15:06 local time, 7.4 at 15:15 local time and 7.2 at 15:26 local time. Over three hundred aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or greater have occurred since the initial quake. Initially reported as 7.9 by the USGS, the magnitude was quickly upgraded to 8.8 and then to 8.9, and then again to either 9.0 or 9.1 according to some sources. This earthquake occurred in the Japan Trench, where the Pacific Plate is subducting beneath the Okhotsk Plate. A quake of this size usually has a rupture length of at least 480 km (300 mi) and requires a long, relatively straight fault line. Because the plate boundary and subduction zone in this region is not very straight, earthquake magnitudes are usually expected to be up to 8 to 8.5; the magnitude of this earthquake was a surprise to some seismologists. The hypocentral region of this earthquake extends from offshore Iwate to offshore Ibaraki Prefectures. The Japanese Meteorological Agency said that the earthquake may have ruptured the fault zone from Iwate to Ibaraki with a length of 500 km (310 mi) and a width of 200 km (120 mi). Analysis showed that this earthquake consisted of a set of three events. The earthquake may have had the same mechanism as that of another large earthquake in 869 with estimated magnitude  8.6, which also caused a large tsunami.

The quake registered a maximum 7 on the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale in Kurihara, Miyagi Prefecture. Three other prefectures—Fukushima, Ibaraki and Tochigi—recorded upper 6 on the JMA scale. Seismic stations in Iwate, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba Prefecture measured lower 6, recording upper 5 in Tokyo.


This earthquake released a surface energy (Me) of 1.9±0.5×1017 joules, dissipated as shaking and tsunamic energy, which is nearly double that of the 9.1-magnitude 2004 Sumatran earthquake that killed 230,000 people. The total energy released (Mw) was calculated by the USGS WPhase Moment Solution at 3.9×1022 joules, slightly less than the 2004 Sumatra quake. The total energy released underground was some 205,000 times that on the surface.

Geophysical impact

Soil liquefaction in Koto, Tokyo

According to Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, the earthquake's enormous strength shifted the Earth's axis by 25 centimeters (9.8 in). This deviation led a number of small changes, including those to the length of a day and the tilt of the Earth. The speed of the Earth's rotation increased, shortening the day by 1.8 microseconds due to the redistribution of Earth's mass.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey said that Honshu, the main island of Japan, was shifted 2.4 m (7.9 ft) toward the east. Researcher Lucy Jones said of the precise data, "The Japanese have the best seismic information in the world... This is overwhelmingly the best-recorded great earthquake ever."

Shinmoedake, a volcano in Kyushu, erupted two days after the earthquake. Although previous eruptions of the volcano occurred in January 2011, it is not known if the earthquake had triggered a renewed eruption.


Wave height map for the tsunami from NOAA

The earthquake triggered tsunami warnings and evacuations for Japan's Pacific coast and at least 20 countries, including the entire Pacific coast of North and South America from Alaska to Chile.


The tsunami warning issued by Japan was the most serious on its warning scale, implying that the wave was expected to be at least 10 m (33 ft) high. The earthquake took place at 14:46 JST around 200 kilometers from the nearest point on Japan's coastline (to the west), and initial estimates indicate the tsunami would have taken from 10-15 minutes to 15-30 minutes to reach the areas first affected, and areas further north and south depending on the geography of the coastline. A tsunami was observed at 15:55 JST flooding Sendai Airport, which is located near the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, with waves sweeping away cars and planes and flooding various buildings as they traveled inland. The impact of the tsunami in and around Sendai Airport was filmed by an NHK News helicopter, showing a number of vehicles on local roads trying to escape the approaching wave and being engulfed by it. A 4-meter

Shortly after the earthquake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) issued tsunami watches and warnings for locations in the Pacific, including a tsunami watch for Hawaii at 7:56 pm Hawaii Standard Time (0556 GMT). At 9:30 pm (0730 GMT) PTWC upgraded the watch for Hawaii to a warning and also issued a widespread tsunami warning for the entire Pacific Ocean. The United States West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for the coastal areas of California and Oregon from Point Conception, California, to the Oregon-Washington border. In California and Oregon, up to 8 ft (2.4 m) high tsunami surges hit some areas, damaging docks and harbors and causing over US$10 million of damage. Hawaii estimated damage to public infrastructure alone at $3 million. A tsunami warning was also advised for the Canadian province of British Columbia, where the potentially affected areas included British Columbia's north coast and the outer west coast of Vancouver Island.

Some South Pacific countries, including Tonga, American Samoa and New Zealand, experienced larger-than-normal waves, but did not report any major damage. Along the Pacific Coast of Mexico and South America, tsunami surges were reported, but in most places caused little or no damage. Peru reported a wave of 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) and over 300 homes damaged in the towns of Pueblo Nuevo de Colan and Pisco. The surge in Chile was large enough to cause some damage. Warnings were issued in all countries at risk, and there was plenty of time to evacuate people from coastal areas; there were very few casualties outside Japan.


The bottom MODIS satellite image was taken on 26 February, and the top on 12 March, post-tsunami; Sendai is approximately centered in both. Scale is 10 km.


Both the earthquake and the resultant tsunami caused many casualties. Unlike other countries which had many hours' notice of a relatively small surge, a major tsunami struck Japan with only minutes' warning, leaving many people unable to escape.

Prefectural officials and the Kyodo News Agency, quoting local officials, said that 9,500 people from Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture—about a half of the town′s population—were unaccounted for. NHK has reported that the death toll in Iwate Prefecture alone may reach 10,000.

Officials in Wakabayashi-ku, Sendai, which was heavily damaged by tsunami waves, stated that they had found the bodies of 200–300 victims.


Nuclear power plants

A map showing epicenter of earthquake and position of nuclear power plants

Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, Fukushima I, Fukushima II and Tōkai nuclear power stations were automatically shut down following the earthquake. Higashidōri, also on the northeast coast, was already shut down for a periodic inspection. However, cooling is needed to remove decay heat for several days even when a plant has been shut down. The cooling process is powered by emergency diesel generators, as in the case of Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant] At Fukushima I and II emergency power systems failed, leading to severe problems including a large explosion at Fukushima I and leakage of radiation. Over 200,000 people have been evacuated.

Seismic recordings at six assessed nuclear power plant facilities indicated the plants had been exposed to peak ground accelerations of 0.037 - 0.383 g and peak ground velocities of 6.18 - 52.62 cm/sec.

Fukushima I and II

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is trying to reduce the pressure within the plants by venting contaminated steam from the reactor vessel into the atmosphere. According to Tomoko Murakami, of the nuclear energy group at Japan's Institute of Energy Economics, this would not result in the release of significant radiation. Residents living within a 20 km (12 mi) radius of the Fukushima I plant were evacuated, as well as residents within 3 km (1.9 mi) of the Fukushima II plant. On 12 March, a BBC journalist reported being stopped 60 km from the blast site by police. As of 14 March, 160 people have been exposed to dangerous radiation levels near the power stations and three had severe symptoms of radiation poisoning. One plant employee was killed by the earthquake while operating a crane and eight were injured. Some local residents and health workers have been diagnosed with mild radiation poisoning.


The effects of the quake included visible smoke rising from a building in the Port of Tokyo with parts of the port areas being flooded, including soil liquefaction in Tokyo Disneyland's carpark.


More than 1.4 million households were reported to have lost access to water supplies.

Stranded passengers on a Tokyo train. Major disruptions to train travel, as well as car and airplane travel, have occurred in places such as Tokyo and northeastern Japan.

Japan's transport network suffered severe disruption. Many sections of Tohoku expressway serving northern Japan were damaged. All railway services were suspended in Tokyo, with an estimated 20,000 people stranded at major stations across the city. In the hours after the earthquake, some train services were resumed. Most Tokyo area train lines resumed full service by the next day-12 March. Twenty thousand stranded visitors spent the night of 11–12 March inside Tokyo Disneyland.

A tsunami wave was seen flooding Sendai Airport at 15:55 JST, about 1 hour after the initial quake. Narita and Haneda Airport both suspended operations after the quake, with most flights diverted to other airports for about 24 hours. Ten airliners bound for Narita were diverted to nearby Yokota Air Base.

Various train services around Japan were also canceled, with JR East suspending all services for the rest of the day. Four trains on coastal lines were reported as being out of contact with operators; one, a four-car train on the Senseki Line, was found to have derailed, and its occupants were rescued shortly after 8 am the next morning. There had been no derailments of Shinkansen bullet train services in and out of Tokyo, but their services were also suspended.The Tōkaidō Shinkansen resumed limited service late in the day and was back to its normal schedule by the next day, while the Jōetsu and Nagano Shinkansen resumed services late on 12 March; however, the Tōhoku Shinkansen remained suspended, with visible damage to electrical poles and elevated spans, and the state of the line in harder-hit areas still difficult to ascertain. A date for resumption of services has not been announced, but repairs are expected to take a considerable amount of time.


Cellular and landline phone service suffered major disruptions in the affected area. Internet services, however, have not been affected to a great extent; only a few websites are unreachable. Several Wi-Fi hotspot providers have reacted to the quake by providing free access to their networks.

Economic impact

An aerial view of Sendai, 12 March. While some analysts are predicting that the total recovery costs could reach ¥10 trillion yen (or $122 billion USD),[140] others suggest that the rebuilding efforts will help boost the Japanese economy in the long term.

The quake has had significant immediate impacts on businesses such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda, who completely suspended auto production until 14 March. Nippon Steel Corporation also suspended production, Toyo Tire & Rubber Company and Sumitomo Rubber Industries shuttered their tyre and rubber production lines, while GS Yuasa closed its automotive battery production. This was expected to hinder supply availability for automakers. Tokyo Electric Power Company, Toshiba, East Japan Railway Company and Shin-Etsu Chemical Company were suggested as the most vulnerable companies as a result of the earthquake. Sony also suspended production at all its six plants in the area, while Fuji Heavy Industries discontinued production at most of its factories in the Gunma and the Tochigi Prefectures Other factories suspending operations include Kirin Holdings, GlaxoSmithKline, and Nestlé. The northern Tohoku region, which was most affected, accounts for about 8 percent of the country's gross domestic product as it has factories that make products such as cars and beer as well as energy infrastructure. The factory shutdowns, power cuts and the consequent presumed impact on consumer confidence could hurt the national GDP for several months, although economist Michael Boskin predicts "only minimal impact on the Japanese economy overall."


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