No place is quite as prepared for earthquakes as Japan.
Students participate monthly in earthquake drills, where they go headfirst under their desks and hold onto its legs until the quake stops. Buildings are made to be earthquake proof, deep foundations allowing them to sway as the earth moves beneath them.
But on Friday, March 11, 2011 Japan took a double slam. Within minutes ssive 8.9 magnitude earthquake, striking just off the coast of Sendai, a 30 foot wall of water rose above the island, sending a deluge of seawater into the ravaged coastal towns. Fishing villages and the coastal areas of large cities simply disappeared, as the tsunami washed buildings, automobiles and bodies out to sea.
The level of damage is staggering. Officials in the northern region of the country say they’re getting by with only 10% of necessary water and supplies, while citizens survive as best they can. With homes and family members gone, an estimated 430,000 survivors are either staying with relatives or huddle in emergency shelters, sleeping next to strangers and struggling to understand what has happened. And, according to the same report by the NHK (a public broadcast), another 24,000 in the region are stranded, with many more missing. Tsunami experts expect the death toll to reach 10,000.
"We just did not expect such a thing to happen,” Hajime Sato, a government official in one of the three hardest hit provinces told the AP. “It's just overwhelming … People are surviving on little food and water.”
The quake, one of the largest on record, actually moved Japan’s global position. The island nation moved 8-inches closer to the United States, and moved the earth on its axis by 10 centimeters (4 inches).
The tsunami was devastating. Within 30 minutes of the quake, water surged inland. With tsunami alerts still in effect, survivors took refuge on high ground – on tall buildings or hillsides. When the alerts were downgraded, residents emerged from their hiding places to find buses atop schoolhouses, debris strewn everywhere. Homes that withstood the quake look unaffected on the outside, but the interiors are in ruins due to flood waters.
Nuclear reactors, responsible for electricity to Asia’s second richest country, were also damaged by the quake-tsunami blow. Residents close to three plants were evacuated and given iodine pills to reduce the effect of air-borne radiation. Others were encouraged to stay indoors after two explosions rocked the nearby plants. The long-term effects of the damage are not known, but residents and government officials voiced concern about possible meltdowns.
Offers of aid were made by over 50 countries around the world and by celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Linkin Park. Japan will need it: recovery costs are estimated to be in the billions.
Experts warn that, in the wake of any disaster, scam-charities spring up. Within 24 hours of Hurricane Katrina, 4000 false charities were created. Charitynavigator.org advises that, if someone chooses to donate to relief in Japan, they use a reputable organization, preferably someone with a presence already in the affected area. Monetary donations are preferable to food, clothing and water, since receipt of items in affected areas is uncertain. Donations to the Red Cross may be made by cell phone by taxing ‘red cross’ to 90999, or to World Vision by texting ‘for Japan’ to 20222. The $10 donation will be billed to the next cell phone bill.