A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
March 14th, 2011
By Tom Carter
The earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan in the last few days are a sobering reminder of the fragility of life on Planet Earth. The main earthquake has been estimated as having a magnitude of 8.9, 9.0, or 9.1 on the Richter scale. Nothing unusual about the variation; it sometimes takes a while for seismologists to arrive at an agreed magnitude. Regardless of which estimate is used, it was the strongest earthquake in Japanese history and one of the strongest ever recorded. There were also many foreshocks, and there have been many aftershocks so far. Some of these exceeded magnitude 7, strong earthquakes by any reckoning.
The tsunami that hit northeastern Honshu Island, the main Japanese island, was devastating. The raging water destroyed entire towns and infrastructure of all kinds and killed many people. The videos of the tsunami are bad enough, but it’s hard to imagine what the horror must have been like for the victims.
The death toll will likely be in the tens of thousands, once bodies have been found and the list of missing has been reconciled with the number known to be dead.
On top of everything else, at least two nuclear power plants were heavily damaged, two reactors may suffer a meltdown, and radioactive contamination has been released into the air. There’s no way to know how bad it will get or how far the winds will carry the radiation. It’s not impossible that this could exceed the severity of the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history.
There’s an excellent summary report on the tragedy here, with many heartbreaking photographs.
Reading reports and looking at videos and photos inevitably lead to thoughts of other natural disasters, past and future:
America is providing help to the Japanese people. A number of U.S. Navy ships are in or nearing Japanese waters, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and a large amphibious assault ship, the USS Essex. The Reagan has already sailed through a radioactive cloud from the damaged Japanese nuclear power plants. Many other forms of aid will be provided from the U.S.
Media coverage of events in Japan has been very good, partly because the highly technical Japanese all seem to have video cameras, and there’s no lack of coverage of the earthquake and tsunami as they occurred. Also, as far as I’ve seen CNN hasn’t sent Anderson Cooper over there to sob on camera, like he did following Hurricane Katrina.
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