Japan made the world news in the bad way last night on account of a massive earthquake and subsequent Wrath of God-level tsunami that devastated the northern end of the main island of Honshu, killing hundreds, possibly thousands of people. The country is one of the most earthquake-ridden in the world, so such things are inevitable, but it’s still sad and frightening when a major quake hits, particularly one of this scale.
Akemi is currently in Japan, and despite being nearly 300 miles (460km) from the epicenter in rural (and inland) Yamanashi prefecture, she said that there was a considerable amount of shaking. The effects are also being felt here in Northern California where I am on the opposite side of the Pacific, where low-lying highways are closed due to the incoming tsunami and there are warning signs all over the area directing people away from beaches.
[Addendum: With good reason; the harbor in nearby, tsunami-prone Crescent City was more or less wiped out by 8-foot waves, and one man not far from there was in all likelihood killed when he was swept out to sea by the waves. Two others there and more in Oregon were also caught by the waves, but made it back to shore.]
AAW’s current home is in a similarly earthquake-prone coastal area with a lot of land just above sea level, so the helicopter-shot videos of the Japanese tsunami methodically washing away entire towns as drivers flee for their lives are particularly terrifying.
While the Tokyo area was shaken and sustained some damage, it was relatively fortunate that the northern end of Honshu is not densely populated. The current danger, though, is that this quake has some chance of setting off the Kanto fault, which is due for a major (~8 magnitude) earthquake any day. The last time it happened, in 1924, Tokyo was practically leveled. Japan’s rough equivalent of San Francisco’s “Big One” will, when it eventually does happen, cause massive devastation in the country’s capital, cultural center, and the largest urban area on Earth. Building codes in Japan are very good, but with 30 million tightly packed residents the death toll could still run into the tens of thousands, and the logistics of helping the survivors will be daunting.
There is also the nearby Tokai fault, which runs roughly through Mt. Fuji and is also due for a large quake in the immediate future. It could even set off an eruption of Mt. Fuji (a similar occurrence happened in the early 1700s), although that probably wouldn’t be particularly destructive to anything but tourism on the iconic mountain, as it is not an explosive volcano and the area immediately around it is not heavily populated.
In the present, though, our hearts go out to those affected by the earthquake, particularly those who lost loved ones.