Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami slams Japan after 8.9 magnitude quake

UPDATED (As of March 11, 2011 10:20 PM, Philippine Time) -- It almost seemed as if you're watching scenes from a disaster movie as Japanese national broadcaster NHK showed scenes of the tsunami wrecking havoc in Miyagi prefecture after a strong magnitude 8.9 earthquake which struck Japan at 2:35 PM (local time). The earthquake occured undersea, 150 kilometers off the coast of Sendai city and was felt as far as the capital Tokyo.

In videos and pictures provided by NHK, office equipment and fixtures were seen shaking and tumbling as the tremors rocked Sendai City. People were seen rushing out of buildings or going on rooftops. Some buildings were also seen on fire with emergency response units desperately trying to put the fires out. A few minutes later, the worst occurs as footage of the deadly tsunami is shown entering the port of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture, washing away cars, yachts and warehouses into the city center. According to the US Geological Survey, as high as 10-meter waves hit cities in the northeast of the country, as shown in footages that followed soon after from Sendai. Farms, houses, vehicles -- some even on fire -- were pushed away by rapidly moving water from the sea. Some vehicles in highways are seen turning back, while others were simply caught without warning. From the helicopter footages, you can see how powerful this tsunami is.

Here in the Philippines, the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has raised the Tsunami Alert to Level II along the north and eastern seaboard of the country. All provinces along these coastlines are advised to prepare for evacuation as 1-meter waves are expected to hit the country between 5 to 9 PM today. Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo of the Philippine Coast Guard has also ordered a travel ban on all ships and water vessels in these coastlines in anticipation of the tsunami. There are no reports of class suspensions but PHIVOLCS has advised all local government units to conduct necessary preparations in case an evacuation becomes imminent. The tsunami alert has been raised not just in the Philippines but also in other parts of the Pacific region, including Russia, Alaska, Taiwan, Indonesia, Guam, Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Northern Marianas, New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, even as far as Mexico, Peru and Chile.

As of 9:00 PM, Philippine time, the initial wave has already passed along the northern and eastern seaboard of the Philippines, with waves measuring 30-60 centimeters in height and causing little to almost no damage. However, the Philvocs warns that the Tsunami Alert Level II will remain raised as this is only the initial wave. There is a possibility of a second wave, perhaps even a third, fourth or fifth one. Meanwhile, in an interview with news program 24 Oras, respected architect Jun Palafox has expressed concern over the stability of Metro Manila buildings in the event that a similar earthquake occurs in the country. According to Palafox, in a study conducted by JAICA in 2004, at least 25-35% of buildings in Metro Manila will collapse if an earthquake as strong as that of today strikes due to structural defects and poor construction. He also noted the buildings must be built at least 50 meters away from the coastline; but in the Philippines, most building are built at least 20 meters or less away from the coastline. The potential for disaster in coastlines across the Philippines is huge once a tsunami strikes in the event of a strong earthquake. Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs is monitoring the condition of at least 300,000 Filipinos working or living in Japan.

Back in Japan, Prime Minister Naoto Kan has commented on the disaster that has rocked his nation. He said that the government is doing everything it can to reach and help those affected by the earthquake. He also instructed the Foreign Ministry and all ambassadors in various Japanese embassies across the globe to prepare receiving aid from other countries. So far, the government has dispatched over 900 rescue workers to rescue and evacuate possible survivors of the catastrophe, put out fires and clear major highways and railways of debris. Eight military planes have also been dispatched to assess the extent of the damage. The Japanese government has also asked the help of the US military in relief efforts for those affected by the quake. (Source)

As of 9:00 PM (Japan Time), the death toll stands at 300. All airports, seaports and Shinkansen (bullet train) lines going to the north of the country are still closed in the aftermath of the disaster. At least 80 fires have been reported in 80 locations across the north, including a major fire in an oil refinery at Ichihara in Chiba prefecture. Meanwhile, four of the major nuclear power plants in the northern Japan have automatically shut down and there are no reports of any leaks in the nuclear material being kept inside the plants. Power is still out in most areas in the north, including Tokyo where 14 million Japanese live. Water supplies are also reported contaminated possibly by soil after underground water pipes burst. (Source)

In the Pacific region, there are no reports so far of major casualties or damages in the wake of the tsunami which hit Japan. In Taiwan, the waves reportedly reached only 10-12 centimeters. In Russia, 11,000 people in the Kuril island chain have been evacuated. The tsunami warning has since been lifted there. And in Alaska, waves measuring about 18 inches hit the Aleutian island chain causing no damage.

The 2011 Sendai earthquake today is the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Japanese history after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. As for world standings, it is currently the fifth strongest according to the US Geological Survey.

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