An earthquake of an 8.9 magnitude on the Richter scale has hit off the north-eastern coast of Japan – the largest since records began, creating a large tsunami that has devastated the entire region. The tsunami hit at 14:46 local time (05:46 GMT) at a depth of about 24km, according to the US Geology Survey. The tsunami is now sweeping across the Pacific and in danger of reaching Hawaii, The Philippines, Australia and as far as the western coasts of both North and South America. However, the expected damage to these places is to be considerably less than that in Japan.
This quake’s magnitude was 0.4 less than the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, but is 1.9 higher than the Haiti Earthquake last year and is 2.1 greater than the Great Hanshin earthquake, which ruined Kobe in 1995. Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, however normally these are on a much smaller scale. Japan is located on the perimeter of the infamous ‘Ring of Fire’ in the Pacific Basin as is the western coast of both of the Americas, New Zealand and Malaysia. All of these areas live in fear of what is known as the ‘Big one’ that threatens to cause cataclysmic effects.
Waves reportedly reached as high as ten metres and as far as ten miles into the country across the coastal towns of Eastern Japan, causing an as yet unknown number of casualties. Japanese predictions report that roughly three hundred have been killed, five hundred are still missing and an estimated one thousand causalities are expected. The strongest waves hit the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki and in particular Fukushima, where a dam has burst and the waves washed away hundreds of homes and buildings.
The earthquake struck roughly two hundred and fifty miles north-east of Tokyo, and people have described how the earth shook for a prolonged period. Aftershocks, peaking at a magnitude of 6, can still be felt and transport systems have also been halted. Oil refineries, some close to Tokyo, have also been hit by the tsunami, causing fires to rage across the eastern coast. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has announced a ‘nuclear alert’ in response to many nuclear power plants feeling the effect of the earthquake and tsunami. Rescue missions have continued into the night as more and more people feel the destruction of the earthquake and tsunami.
To make this tragic situation worse, a Japanese nuclear power plant, Fukushima 1, close to the epicentre of Friday’s earthquake, suffered a massive explosion as a result of damage from the quake. Tens of thousands of people in the surrounding area have been urged to evacuate their homes, and officials warn that a meltdown may yet occur at one of the plant’s reactors.
The Japanese American Service Committee (JASC) has formed an emergency Japan Earthquake Relief fund in response to the earthquake, with all proceeds going to The American Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief Fund, www.jasc-chicago.org.