Japan One Week On

It has now been a week since theearthquake, tsunami and reactor accident and the picture appears to be fillingin.

First of, the death toll ispresently over 6,000 and somewhere around 10,000 are missing.   This is much better than the fifty thousandthat it looked like three days ago. A realistic estimate today appears to be aminimum of 15,000 and perhaps as much as 25,000, providing a lot of the missinghave not been reported as yet.  This isten percent of the losses experienced during the boxing day tsunami of 2004 in Sumatra and displays the stark difference betweenpreparedness and lack thereof.

Even more impressive is the sheerlack of collapsed buildings from what was a violent earthquake.  This is a great engineering achievement.  There are always ways to improve, but itappears that a lot of things were done right. When ninety to ninety five percent of potential victims merely gotscared, we are doing pretty well.

As happened in Katrina, it isnecessary to move a huge block of the population away from the affectedregion.  Much of this can be done bysupporting voluntary decisions to relocate. Some of this has already started and it will need to be accelerated.  This both restores production and clears theway for the general cleanup.  Perhaps wewill see clearly inundated land simply abandoned.   This was a pretty good stress test of a oncein a millennia event.  Simply notbuilding what was destroyed will spare the population from it ever been asserious again and millennia of nightmares for those living on such land.

They are still struggling tomaster the reactor disaster.  Power hasbeen restored and if they can restore the integrity of the pumping system, thenthe risk of a worse accident will recede as the reactors cool.  Actual decommissioning will be a seriouschallenge and I am not impressed by comments about using cement to bury partsof it all.

Otherwise, a death toll of sayaround 20,000, minor radiation exposure, a slew of plant workers sacrificedperhaps and perhaps 500,000 dislocated for various lengths of time.  There will be a massive rebuilding andrestoration job that will absorb Japan’s resources for perhaps thenext five years, but the economy should be recovering very quickly.

The real truth is that Japan got oflight and we now have a real example of the worst case scenario that engineersneed to build for in at risk zones.  AlsoNuclear plants must be built were they are at least in the shadow of a barrierisland.  A local hundred foot tsunami ispossible anywhere one has open access to the sea, however unlikely.  A barrier island completely eliminates suchrisk and may even be in position to dampen the effects of quakes as is Vancouver Island.

One Week After Earthquake,Tsunami Japan Ponders Future

Martyn Williams | Tokyo March18, 2011

Photo: AP

Local residents wait for a ship to travel to a nearby island from thedevastated city of Kesennuma, northeastern Japan,just one week after a massive earthquake and resulting tsunami, March 18, 2011

It's been a week since a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated alarge part of eastern Japankilling at least 6,548 people. While much of the attention remains focused onthe crippled Fukushima number one nuclear plant,Japan'sgovernment has also begun looking at what comes next.

At 2:46 p.m. March 18, the disaster-hit north of Japan paused. Survivors bowed theirheads and rescue work stopped for just one minute.

Japan marked the one-weekanniversary of the combined earthquake and tsunami disaster with a grimstatistic: the death toll passed that of 1995's earthquake in Kobe and it's likely to keep rising with morethan 9,000 unaccounted for.

Many displaced 

The disaster displaced some 380,000 people, who are currently living in over2,000 shelters.

Friday Yoshihiro Murai, the governor of hard-hit Miyagi prefecture, suggestedthey might move to other parts of Japan.

Murai says there are 220,000 people homeless in his prefecture, and the localgovernment will not be able to provide temporary housing for them any time soon.He says he will ask survivors to consider moving so they can enjoy betterliving conditions.

Japan's central government said it is alsoconsidering relocating people from the disaster-hit region.

Aid continues to roll into the area, but damage to infrastructure is makingdistribution difficult. Life remains tough for the displaced, with complaintsabout shortages of food, water and gasoline.

But, day by day, more roads are being reopened allowing trucks of relief goodsto reach most victims. However, some communities remain cut off.


On Friday evening, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan spoke of the hardships in an address tothe nation.

Kan said he understands people in shelters are cold and don't have enough food,but the government is doing all it can. He said he hopes to return a sense ofsecurity to them soon.

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