Japan Reeling In The Wake of Massive Earthquake
An 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan Friday afternoon, subsequently churning up a 23-foot-high tsunami that slammed into the northeast coast. Hundreds have been confirmed dead and tsunami warnings are in effect for more than 50 countries, including Hawaii and western United States.
The earthquake occurred off the east coast of Japan near Honshu, an island about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, at a depth of about 17 miles below the earth’s surface. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, it is the biggest to hit Japan since scientists first began keeping record in the late 1800s.
After the quake, a tsunami rushed ashore at speeds of almost 500 miles per hour, comparable to those of a jumbo jet. The water swept cars, fishing boats and ships, and homes miles inland. Highways have buckled and communication lines are down. The earthquake and tsunami also broke gas lines, sparking fires in at least 80 locations up and down the coastline.
So far, the number of casualties is unconfirmed, but so far, 200 to 300 people have been found dead in the coastal city of Sendai alone. Countless are injured or missing, and officials say the death toll is expected to rise.
Meanwhile, millions of buildings in Tokyo and its suburbs are without power, travel service has been suspended, and many residents have been left stranded or homeless. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated.
Four nuclear power plants directly in the tsunami’s path have been safely shut down, but residents near a plant in Onahama were evacuated after a backup generator failed, compromising the plant’s cooling system. Two other plants experience problems, but no radiation leaks have been reported.
More than 80 aftershocks have been felt throughout the region since the quake.
“The earthquake has caused major damage in broad areas in northern Japan,“ said Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
President Barack Obama offered his condolences in a statement this morning, stating that the United States is prepared to offer whatever assistance Japan may need. He also put the Federal Emergency Management Agency on alert in the event that Hawaii or western states are affected by the tsunami.
In Hawaii, seven-foot surges reached the shores of Maui midmorning Eastern Standard Time. Waves are also expected to affect Alaska, Oregon and California.
Worldwide, tsunami warnings are still in effect throughout the day in Southeast Asian and Latin American nations, Japan, Russia, Chile, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand is still recovering from a 6.3-magnitude earthquake the rocked the city of Christchurch February 22.
Friday’s earthquake is the latest of several that have hit the Pacific region this week. Two were recorded off the coast Thursday, the first at a magnitude of 7.2 and the second at 6.3. It was the fifth strongest in the world since 1900.
Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire,” a highly volcanic zone arcing through the Pacific Ocean. It is here than about 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur.