Our straight talking Lancashire lass takes a sideways look at the daily news.
Japan in Crisis
For the past three days I have been glued to the newswires watching the catastrophic events unfold in Japan.
I woke on Friday morning to the news that a massive earthquake of magnitude 8.9 had struck off the north east coast of Japan, and that this had triggered a powerful tsunami that had swept inland. But it wasn’t until the first images of the total devastation hit our screens that the sheer scale of the disaster hit home. To be honest, it still hasn’t.
Aerial footage of the vile black sludge that seemed to crawl across neat and green farmland belied the fact that waves of up to 33 ft were pulverising their way inland, swallowing everything in their path – houses, boats, cars, planes and people – and leaving a trail of pure destruction in their wake.
The earthquake itself, although one of the largest ever recorded, was less deadly. Japan is one of the most earthquake-savvy countries in the world. The island is located on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ where most of the world’s seismic activity takes place. Earthquake drills are routine, and their state-of-the-art buildings – from houses to skyscrapers - are designed to withstand the most powerful quakes. Even quakes like this one, that shifts the island over 2 meters and knocks the earth 10 cm from its axis.
But no one could have predicted the deadly tsunami that was to follow. The world watched in awestruck horror as oil refineries, trains, boats, towns, villages, ports and cities were eaten alive by the ferocious thick black waters. Black because of a disgusting polluted concoction of mud, silt, oil and debris.
Around 10,000 people who lived in the port town of Minamisanriku are still missing, most are feared dead. The population of this town before the waves struck was 17,000. We may never know the full death toll as so many people will have been buried in the mud or swept far out to sea.
And if that wasn’t bad enough Japan is now desperately trying to contain a massive nuclear crisis after a number of their reactors were damaged during the quake.
At the time of writing, four nuclear power plants were damaged – to varying degrees. The worst hit is the Fukushima plant that (at the time of writing) has suffered two powerful hydrogen explosions. The cooling systems have failed and plant workers have resorted to pumping seawater mixed with boric acid into the reactors to bring down the temperatures of the highly volatile radioactive material.
The Japanese government insist that a meltdown is still avoidable, but when explosions rip through a nuclear power plant live on TV, it doesn’t instill much confidence. Also, using seawater to cool nuclear fuel rods has never been done before in the history of nuclear power. They simply don’t know what is going to happen. But to be safe they have evacuated at least 200,000 people from a 20 mile radius surrounding the power plant. Journalists can’t get within 60 miles of the power plant. It’s bad.
As men in white radiation suits pour across the area with their Geiger counters assessing the damage, 160 people have been tested for radiation contamination and 15 people are being treated for radiation sickness.
And as the bodies wash up onto the devastated shores of Japan, the rescue and clean-up effort begins. But in the face of such annihilation, where do you even start to begin? Without a doubt this is the hardest time the country faces since the Second World War.
I’ve never seen anything like this. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan.
The British Red Cross has launched their Japan Tsunami Appeal. To donate, click here.