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Live TV image of the tsunami hitting the city of Sendai, March 11, 2011


March 18, 2011

Earthquake Special

As you all know, Japan was struck by the multiple disaster last Friday of a mega- earthquake, a monster tsunami and exploding nuclear reactors. To make a dire situation even worse, unseasonably cold temperatures and snow have added to the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of residents in the affected areas, especially those huddling in makeshift evacuation centers.

I was in Tokyo when the magnitude 9 earthquake struck about 250 km to the northeast. The shaking in the capital was powerful enough to cause structures to sway perilously, but thanks to their earthquake-proof construction, no buildings collapsed and there were very few reported fatalities or injuries.

Because of expected power outages and shortages of supplies Tokyo residents have been busy hoarding food, gasoline and other daily necessities these past few days, leaving store shelves bare.

The fear of further quakes and of the spreading of radioactivity from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant to the Kanto (Tokyo-Yokohama) area has prompted several countries including the Netherlands to urge their citizens here to leave the country, or at least the Kanto. Airlines are closely monitoring the situation and are expected to cancel flights in and out of Japan if radioactivity becomes hazardous. Japanese citizens in the Kanto too are increasingly worried about the authorities' handling of the crisis, and some have left for safer ground.

Doubts are being expressed - especially in foreign media - about the veracity of the official reports on the state of the reactors and the potential threat to larger areas of Japan including Tokyo. Whether these doubts are justified is impossible to say. So far the levels of radioactivity, also as measured by independent monitors, are still well below danger levels, and the exodus therefore appears to be caused more by 'what if' scenarios than by a clear and present danger. On the surface life in Tokyo appears fairly normal, though conditions are expected to worsen as electricity shortages are beginning to bite and the emergency at the Fukushima power plant drags on.

Hiromi and I left Tokyo for Fukuoka, about 1000 km to the southwest, where we await further developments.



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