Monday, March 14, 2011

In Tsunami’s Wake, Much Searching but Few Are Rescued -

The news today is not good. In Tsunami’s Wake, Much Searching but Few Are Rescued -
The mournful scene here in Natori, a farm and fishing town that has been reduced to a vast muddy plain, was similar to rescue efforts in other communities along the coast as police, military and foreign assistance teams poked through splintered houses and piles of wreckage. The death toll from what the United States Geological Survey called an 8.9-magnitude quake — the strongest in Japan’s seismically turbulent history — continued to climb, inexorably so, as officials uncovered more bodies. By Monday afternoon, the toll stood at more than 1,800 confirmed dead and 2,300 missing. Police officials, however, said it was certain that more than 10,000 had died.

Police teams, for example, found about 700 bodies that had washed ashore on a scenic peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture, close to the epicenter of the quake that unleashed the tsunami. The bodies washed out as the tsunami retreated. Now they are washing back in.

A string of crippled nuclear reactors at Fukushima also continued to bedevil engineers who were desperately trying to cool them down. The most urgent worries concerned the failures of two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where workers were still struggling to avert meltdowns and where some radiation had already leaked.

The building housing Reactor No. 1 exploded on Saturday, and a hydrogen buildup blew the roof off the No. 3 reactor facility on Monday morning. The blast did not appear to have harmed the reactor itself, government and utility officials said, but six workers were injured in the blasts.

Later Monday, Reactor No. 2 was losing cooling function and workers were pumping in water, according to Yukio Edano, the chief government spokesman.
In the city of Fukushima, gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants were closed, and convenience stores had no food or drinks to sell — only cigarettes. Red Cross water tankers dispensed drinking water to Fukushima residents who waited in long, orderly lines.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the triple whammy — the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear troubles — as Japan’s “worst crisis since World War II.”

Some 350,000 people have reportedly become homeless and were staying in shelters.

Because of the Fukushima nuclear plants being lost to the national power grid, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the plants, announced plans for rotating blackouts across the region to conserve electricity — the first controlled power cuts in Japan in 60 years.

Tokyo-area residents worriedly followed a series of confusing statements from the power company about the location and duration of the power cuts. Just after 5 p.m., the utility said it had already started cutting power to parts of two prefectures — Ibaraki, north of Tokyo, and Shizuoka, south of the capital.

Tokyo residents had struggled to get to work Monday as a number of important commuter rail lines ran limited schedules. Six lines featuring Japan’s famous shinkansen, or bullet trains, were not running. Six major department stores also closed for the day because staffers were unable to reach the city.

Public conservation of electricity was significant enough, the company said, that the more drastic blackout scenarios were being scaled back. Still, anticipating deep and lengthy power cuts, many people were stocking up on candles, water, instant noodles and batteries for radios.


The U.S. Geological Survey recorded 96 aftershocks on Sunday, and many Japanese were alarmed at several earthquake warnings that appeared as televised bulletins on Monday. A warning at 4 p.m., for example, an alert announced by a gentle trilling bells, told of expected “strong shaking” across the entire waist of Japan, essentially from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Also over the weekend the Japanese Meteorological Agency revised upward its measure of Friday’s quake to 9.0. The agency often provides measurements that differ from the U.S.G.S.
And Second Explosion at Reactor as Technicians Try to Contain Damage -
TOKYO — The risk of partial meltdown at a stricken nuclear power plant in Japan increased on Monday as cooling systems failed at a third reactor, possibly exposing its fuel rods, only hours after a second explosion at a separate reactor blew the roof off a containment building.

The widening problems underscore the difficulties Japanese authorities are having in bringing several damaged reactors under control three days after a devastating earthquake and a tsunami hit Japan’s northeast coast and shut down the electricity that runs the crucial cooling systems for reactors.

Operators fear that if they cannot establish control, despite increasingly desperate measures to do so, the reactors could experience meltdowns, which would release catastrophic amounts of radiation.

It was unclear if radiation was released by Monday’s explosion, but a similar explosion at another reactor at the plant over the weekend did release radioactive material.

Live footage on public broadcaster NHK showed the skeletal remains of the reactor building and thick smoke rising from the building. Eleven people had been injured in the blast, one seriously, officials said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that the release of large amounts of radiation was unlikely. But traces of radiation could be released into the atmosphere, and about 500 people who remained within a 12-mile radius were ordered temporarily to take cover indoors, he said.

The country’s nuclear power watchdog said readings taken soon after the explosion showed no big change in radiation levels around the plant or any damage to the containment vessel, which protects the radioactive material in the reactor.
“I have received reports that the containment vessel is sound,” Mr. Edano said. “I understand that there is little possibility that radioactive materials are being released in large amounts.”

In screenings, higher-than-normal levels of radiation have been detected from at least 22 people evacuated from near the plant, the nuclear safety watchdog said, but it was not clear if the doses they received were dangerous.
Japan Earthquake Response Fund.
The Japan Earthquake Response Fund has been opened to collect donations for emergency relief provided through local partners in Japan and other areas affected by the disaster. A massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake centered off the east coast of Japan’s largest island, Hokkaido, triggered a tsunami that devastated large areas of Japan and caused damage as far away as Hawai’i and the west coast of the US. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all those affected.

You can donate at that page if you're so inclined.

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