In a matter of minutes, cars were parked in trees, citizens were bleeding and homes were viciously overturned; now, 7,348 citizens are currently reported dead and thousands more displaced in Japan.
Early Friday morning, March 11, as most Northwestern students were asleep, an earthquake struck off the northeastern coast of Japan. The quake measured a staggering 8.9 magnitude on the Richter scale, making it the world’s largest earthquake since 1900. Since that fateful Friday morning, we’ve also learned it would turn out to be the world’s deadliest.
The world continued to watch in horror as a tsunami resulted from the sudden separation of the tectonic plates and consequent displacement of large volumes of seawater. This tsunami devastated massive coastal regions with waves traveling an estimated 500 mph and reaching heights of 70 feet.
Yui Shiotani, an international student who studied at NW this past fall, recalls the details vividly. “I was going to have a job interview in Tokyo on the next Monday. And since I had no idea about how to prepare for it, I went to the Career Support Center at Osaka Jogakuin College. An officer and I were talking about the interview when it happened.” She describes the feeling as a “big and slow” movement.
“I thought I was feeling dizzy, like I was on a boat. But this feeling wasn’t only happening to me. People in the center started screaming something was wrong, and everyone had to get out from the building.”
After forced evacuation, Yui and other students were told to report home. There she says she watched the “terrible news on TV.”
“A tsunami bigger than I’d ever seen before was attacking towns on the coast.
It easily destroyed houses and buildings. We couldn’t do anything about it. All I could do was watch it on TV.”
Today the news remains grim. “So many people were killed, injured, or lost everything. I saw lots of people crying and screaming. Some people just repeating their family member’s name,” Yui remarked.
While it’s too soon to clearly predict the effect of the tsunami on the world economy, gas prices and nuclear politics, the Japanese people are feeling the very real and tangible effects of such a devastating natural disaster.
Yukiko Higashino, an international student from Osaka, Japan, said, “After all that, earthquakes still keep happening.”
Data from the U.S. Geological Survey online shows an average of 20 to 30 quakes every day this week, measuring anywhere from 3.1 to 6.2 on the Richter scale.
Adding to the distress: food, water and electricity are in short supply in affected coastal regions and populated areas like Tokyo.
“The victims who are now homeless are living in schools, shrines or other safe places. The infrastructure doesn’t work. The biggest electricity company decided to stop their service in Tokyo and near places to send it to the earthquake and tsunami area. Most of the transportation stopped,” Yui said.
“Many people started buying so much food and gas in order to prepare for the next disaster,” causing rising prices in everyday goods.
A damaged nuclear reactor at one of Japan’s largest nuclear plants threatens millions with leaking radiation. Mass evacuations have been ordered as water sources, food supplies and exported products have been contaminated. According to CNN, traces of radiation from Fukushima have been found in collected air samples as far away as Colorado.
“Because of the spread of Internet, so many wrong ideas and information have been given out,” Yui commented. “When the nuclear explosion happened, one rumor spread on Twitter that drinking mouthwash cleaned up radioactivity from one’s body. Mouthwash was sold out everywhere.”
Stateside, the tsunami panic affected other NW students. Jannelle Aguirre, a native of Huntington Beach, Calif., said, “My mom was scared. She updated our earthquake first aid kits and out-of-state contacts.”
Popular Laguna Beach was closed for days after, Aguirre recounted. “The sand at the beach was blocked off. I’ve never seen the beach shut down before like that. It caught me off guard.”
The panic didn’t cease as authorities at San Onofre Nuclear Generator (SONG) gave out iodine pills to clear traces of nuclear radioactivity in case of radiation leakage.
Despair continues worldwide and communities are responding. See side panel for ways to get involved.