Friday, March 11

Another big one hits the Pacific Rim

Northern Japan has been devastated by a massive earthquake today, the nation's largest for more than 150 years. The powerful tremor registered an astonishing 8.9 magnitude, shaking much of Honshu for almost two minutes. Its epicenter occured 382km northeast of Tokyo, approximately 100 kilometres offshore from the coastal city of Sendai. According to US Geological Survey data, the strength of this quake makes it the seventh largest in recorded history. I'm relieved to report that staff from my company's Tokyo office and its local clients are all safe. However, everyone is now stranded as the city's entire subway and train system has shut down.

The unfolding disaster also has a personal connection. On my last trip to Japan I caught a shinkansen train to Sendai for a weekend excursion. My day trip included time on the water in picturesque Matsushima Bay, roughly 30 kilometres north of the city (that's the photo opening this post, along with one above that I snapped of ubiquitous tsunami evacuation signs you see everywhere in the town). This entire coast has now been devastated by a destructive tsunami. We've been watching dramatic television footage of a giant ten-metre wave sweeping across farmland and the Sendai airport. As I type news reports are reporting that a ship with more than 100 passengers was swept away by the tsunami. We're bracing for a terrible death toll as the news fog clears in the days ahead.

Earlier this evening my mother called from New Zealand some what concerned. The nation's automatic tsunami warning system had been triggered by the quake so coastal towns began receiving alerts. This meant that emergency broadcast messages interrupted television broadcasts and internet services where my parents live. They live less than 500 metres from the beach on New Zealand's Pacific coast (that's the photo below). As my mother noted, its a little unnerving when your television tells you without warning to flee for higher ground. The alerts were soon lifted.

UPDATE: March 16
I found the following story about the tsunami's impact in Matsushima. It seems that the bay's chain of limestone islands saved the tourist town from the worst. The town central is flooded, the boat wharf I once disembarked from has partially collapsed and many waterfront homes are damaged. However the story is very different a few kilometres up the coast where thousands are missing and entire towns have been literally wiped off the map.

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