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:
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.
Blogger oka_5489net in Okinawa describes their first-hand experience living through the typhoon:
Blogger Matsukun, who runs a cafe in Okinawa, describes his experience of the typhoon:
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.
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.
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.
There was still power going to the second floor.
There wasn't a power failure.
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.
Friday to Monday (Marine Day) of this week is normally the most busy of the year… in the past, anyway.
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:
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…
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:
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:
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!