Japan: A Week of Typhoons, Earthquakes, and Nuke Leaks

Living directly on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, in a region known for its seismic activity and unstable climatic conditions, in a country with more earthquakes than any other in the world, Japanese are accustomed to the threat of natural disasters. A week of record-setting earthquakes and typhoons — not to mention a calamity of humankind's own creation — has, however, served as a powerful and painful reminder that ultimately humans are no match for nature's wrath.

Last week on Friday, Typhoon No. 4 [Man-yi] hit the islands of Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, flooding areas with torrential rains, before moving on to Kyushu and then finally on out to sea. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes as the typhoon, with record wind speeds of up to 216 km/h and air pressure reaching 945 hectopascals, tore at houses and city infrastructure, precipitating floods and landslides and sweeping away one 11-year-old boy in a river. The fury of the storm, however, did not stop some people from venturing out to have a look for themselves, with predictable consequences.

No longer had the typhoon made its departure than a massive earthquake hit the region of Niigata, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale and upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. Dramatic footage broadcast on Japanese TV, taken from the security camera in a supermarket, shows store shelves rocked by violent seismic waves; another home video shows a kid hiding under the table as his dad tells him everything will be okay. Television showed people at shelters lining up to get water and take a bath as the Self-Defense Forces were called in to provide housing and support.

The most ominous result of the series of disasters over the past week was without doubt the finding that the world's largest nuclear reactor, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant, which erupted in flames directly following the powerful earthquake, is sitting directly above an active faultline. While officials at the Tokyo Electric Power Company initially denied any leaks, they later revealed that 1200 litres of radioactive water had washed into the sea, and that 100 drums containing low-level nuclear waste had fallen over, causing “several” to lose their lids. While some have compared the nuke incident to Three Mile Island, others argue that facts in the spill incident are being trampled by hysteria.

Blogger r at r-studio provides a quick summary of the week's events, noting that the majority of them happened in a span of 24 hours:


Yesterday was a fierce day.

1. やっと台風4号が太平洋へ抜けていった。
2. 新潟で震度6強の大地震発生。青森から大阪、兵庫付近まで揺れを観測。
3. 柏崎刈羽原発から放射性物質をふくむ水が海へ流出。
4. 新潟で震度6弱の余震発生。
5. 奈良で震度3の地震発生。近畿地方で揺れを観測。
6. 京都沖を震源とする地震発生。何故か北海道から関東にかけて太平洋側で震度3から4を観測。
7. 大阪と奈良で1時間の降水量が100ミリを超える記録的集中豪雨が発生。

1. Typhoon No. 4 [Man-yi] finally passed through and into the Pacific Ocean.
2. In Niigata there was an earthquake registering upper 6 [on the Japanese seismic intensity scale]. Tremors were felt from Aomori to Osaka, and as far as the vincinity of Hyogo [prefecture].
3. Water containing radioactive material leaked from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant into the sea.
4. An aftershock registering 6 [on the Japanese seismic intensity scale] hit Niigata.
5. Nara was hit by an earthquake registering 3 [on the Japanese seismic intensity scale]. Tremors were felt in the Kinki region.
6. Another earthquake centered off the coast of Kyoto erupted. From Hokkaido to the Kanto region, along the side [of Japan] facing the Pacific Ocean, earthquakes of between 3 and 4 [on the Japanese seismic intensity scale] were recorded.
7. A severe rainstorm hit Osaka and Nara, in one hour setting a record with over 100 milimeters of precipitation.


Apart from the typhoon, 2-7 all occurred within a period of 24 hours. Seems pretty abnormal to me.

Blogger oka_5489net in Okinawa describes their first-hand experience living through the typhoon:

先週金曜日から大型で非常に強い台風4号が沖縄を直撃してました。なんと24時間も滞在していたとか。外を見ると、ひどい時はバケツの水が横から降ってくる感じ。近くの建物も激しい雨のせいで見えなくなってました。一旦風雨が止まったすきに出勤したのですが、街路樹の枝葉や、根こそぎ飛んでしまった木々、アンテナや自動販売機のそばにあるようなゴミ箱など散乱状態。今日も那覇市内は時折激しい雨に見まわれぐづくいた天気です。台風が過ぎたと思ったら新潟の 大地震、何か不気味な感じです。(ななえ)

Starting last Friday, an incredibly strong typhoon, Typhoon No. 4 [Man-yi], hit Okinawa head on. Believe it or not, it stayed here for a full 24 hours. During the worst periods, you would look outside it felt like the rain was coming from the side out of buckets. The rain was so torrential that I couldn't even see nearby buildings. When the wind and rained stopped for a moment, I took the chance to go to work, but everything was in a chaotic state: branches and leaves from the trees lining the streets, trees that had been ripped out by their roots, and antennas and the stuff from garbage cans next to vending machines, all of these things were scattered [all over the place]. Today as well, the weather in Naha City is bringing more torrential rain. Just as we thought the typhoon had passed, then came the huge earthquake in Niigata. It all somehow feels a bit eerie.

Blogger Matsukun, who runs a cafe in Okinawa, describes his experience of the typhoon:


Late Thursday night.
As was predicted, the storm arrived.
The staff who were working that day put a lot of effort into protecting the store from the storm.


Friday morning.
In weather forecasts and so on, [people were using the word] “fierce” a lot.
First thing in the morning I opened the window a bit to see out.
[The weather in] the city was raging. I wanted to scream.
In this type of situation, I realized that waterfront stores are not safe.
I tried to prepared to some degree.
As I was preparing, I switched on the TV.
But it didn't come on.
I turned on the air conditioner.
But it didn't come on.
There was a power failure.



Friday afternoon.
The wind died down a bit.
Maybe we're in the eye of the storm?
I went to check out the state of the condition of the store.
It's like what you see on the news on TV
[The news was saying] that which goes like: “Someone who went out to check on their store was injured by the fury of the storm.”
So that that kind of thing would not happen to me,
I was very cautious when I went to see.
Water had rushed into the kitchen, I think through the back door.
It was a complete mess.



But I was lucky.
There was still power going to the second floor.
There wasn't a power failure.



Saturday morning.
I thought to myself: At last! Today we can open the store!, but
the weather didn't improve at all.
I gave up on trying to open for lunch time.
Then I gave it another shot, thinking: Yes! We will open this evening!, but
even though the area was no longer considered a region with strong winds, there was still heavy rain and wind.
They were warning of heavy rain and flooding.



Time was running out, so finally I gave up on opening the store in the evening as well.
Friday to Monday (Marine Day) of this week is normally the most busy of the year… in the past, anyway.


And now the typhoon is going to hit Shikoku and Kinki?
This storm is really causing a mess.

The earthquake in Niigata was also the topic of many blog entries. Blogger pangya-junkie reminds readers that there was another giant earthquake in Niigata prefecture just a few years ago:


About 2 or 3 years ago, there was also a big earthquake in Niigata.
Another earthquake in such a short time, I think it's really the worst [thing that could happen].
However much people might say that it's just an act of nature…


In my entire life, I have never experienced such a big earthquake, so
it's a world that I can't imagine at all.

The 2004 Niigata earthquake was not the only one in that region, however. Blogger bonton writes about the 1964 eartquake in that region:


In 1964, I experienced the Niigata earthquake. Although, this was just after I was born, so I don't have any memories of that time. My mother says, however, that while all earthquakes are scary, among all of them — the Niigata earthquake, the Chuetsu earthquake, and now this time, the earthquake off the coast of Chuetsu — she says that: “the Niigata earthquake was the most scary.” Apparently I, who had just been born, was sleeping at lunch-time under a mosquito net. That mosquito net saved my life. She says that a cardboard box on top of a cabinet and the shade of a fluorescent light fell right on me.

With all these disasters, what will happen to the agriculture industry in Japan? Blogger sends a message out to Japanese farmers struggling to cope with the effects of the typhoon and eartquakes:


It must be terrible for the people who suffered through Typhoon No. 4 last week, and for those who suffered through the earthquake in Niigata , but I think it must have been an especially terrible blow to people working in the agriculture industry, the industry that I also work in. Crops that were cultivated with great care become, due to rain and wind, impossible to harvest — this is something really awful [for people in the industry]. I have had the experience many times of the plastic around my greenhouse being ripped by rain and snow, but the damage to my crops was not extensive. Even then, however, I hate just thinking about the fact that I will have to change the plastic and clean everything up. If there is flooding, the effects on crops will be immeasurable. [Changes to] the condition of soil and the infection of crops have effects that last a very long time.


Organic farming and reduced chemical agriculture, of course, rely on the gifts of nature, and I think the people [in these industries] are really struggling bravely here in Japan where natural disasters are so frequent.
I will only say these few short words: please support these people struggling in the agriculture industry. These people work in Japan's very important food production industry, so please give them your support.
The rice producers have perhaps lost a full year of earnings, but please everyone in the agriculture industry, all the farmers who harvest the gifts of nature, don't give up!


  • First, thanks for the link to my story…I’ve caught some slack for comparing the reactor accident in Japan to that of Three Mile Island here in America. Today, the Neikei News is placing financial costs to TOPCO between now and March of 2008 at $1.7 Billion dollars. I would say, and have reported that such a figure makes this accident QUITE SIGNIFICANT.

    Question is, qill TEPCO try to follow Entergy’s deplorable example set after Hurricane Katrina, and force the people of Japan to pick up the costs?

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