Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Devastations –
The End of the World As We Know It
(Godzilla Arises From Depths, Attacks Japan)
When I think of Japan I think of the gorgeous art work, the prints. The one that stands out the most is the massive wave with the snow capped Mount Fuji in the background. The foreground of the print depicts a massive and menacing wave. The wave is menacing not just due to the size of the crest but the stylistic art, the fingers, the many tips waiting to grab and take everything in its reach. The waves say to its victims in the land of the rising sun, “Come with me.”
On Friday March 11th “a magnitude 9.0 offshore quake,” according to the Associated Press, “struck at 2:46 p.m. Japanese time. It was the biggest to hit Japan since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. It ranked as the fifth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and was nearly 8,000 times stronger than one that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand.”
The earthquake rocked dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline. Hundreds of miles away in Tokyo, the skyscrapers swayed back and forth.
The quake was followed for hours by aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey said 124 were detected off Japan’s main island of Honshu, 111 of them of magnitude 5.0 or greater.
Japan is on the Pacific rim and sits on the ring of fire. The the rim of fire is a seismic and volcanic region that stretches from New Zealand to Japan to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down the coast of America’s Pacific coast and all the way down to Chile. 90 percent of the world’s quakes occur along the rim of fire. Big earthquakes recently struck with a 6.3 magnitude in Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011 that claimed 65 lives; and an 8.8 magnitude quake in Chile in February 2010 that killed 524 people. The biggest devastation, however, was from the December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 countries. The Indian Ocean tsunami was triggered by an underwater earthquake between 9.1 and 9.3 magnitude.
Early warning announcements alerted people to head for high ground. Many, clinging to family members, made it to safety. Many, however, did not survive because they never had a chance. Everything happened so quickly.
Then, a 30-foot-plus tall wave of water rushed in across the northwestern region of Japan. The see walls were useless. Homes, cars by the hundreds, telephone polls, and roadways and sidewalks were all swept inland. Fires broke out when gas pipes broke as comfortable homes turned into instant debris and floated helplessly further inland. The force of the tsunami, in fact, pushed water, buildings, capsized boats, cars, and bodies 10 kilometers, or just over six miles, inland.
People trapped in cars were helplessly stranded as they were washed away. People clung to trees, and in the struggle to live … lost the grip of their loved ones as they were washed away to an unknown fate … a fate likely to be a cold watery grave. In a news account by the Press Association, “A 60-year-old man was rescued by the military after floating out to sea on the roof of his home.” Before the man was rescued, he said: “I thought (it) was the last day of my life.” Estimates after the quake and tsunami were that 10,000 lives may have been lost.
Japan created new land using land fill piled up in the water. You’d never know looking at the lush landscapes. But, one video clip made during the earthquake showed water seeping up from the ground as it broke apart.
In one of the schools, a clock on the wall was frozen at 2:46 in the afternoon … the hour and minute that the devastation swept across the community and left trash, debris, and mud in its wake. Automobiles, train cars, and large fishing vessels were like flimsy play toys in the hands of the power of nature reacting to the quake. Oil refineries were set ablaze and smoke filled the sky. Everything that had material and economic value was totally trashed.
Media broadcasts showed before and after aerial images of many coastal towns. And, town after town was wiped clean off the map by the tsunami. Images of the elderly looked bewildered as they wondered how they would resume their lives. Video footage showed young children as they cried to their mothers and asked, “What happened to my brother? What happened to my sister?”
Japan has several older nuclear power plants along the coast on the main island. They are 40 years old. Prior to their construction, expert consultants warned the Japanese that those reactors should not be built due to an earthquake and catastrophe scenario. They were built anyway. And, after the quake struck, the power went down, and the back up generators failed. At 3:40 Saturday afternoon, one of the plants blew up. Everyone by now has probably seen the video clip of the blast that took the top off of one of the reactors. As a result, 170,000 nearby residents evacuated for safety reasons.
According to the Associated Press, “The tsunami hit Hawaii before dawn Friday, with most damage coming on the Big Island. The waves covered beachfront roads and rushed into hotels. One house was picked up and carried out to sea. Low-lying areas in Maui were flooded by 7-foot waves.”
CNBC’s Larry Kudlow said: “The human toll is greater than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that.” Perhaps CNBC will follow the other stations that have bounced long standing talking heads that cross the line with idiotic remarks. Kudlow apologized and said he flubbed his line. But, the problem with financial media like CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Week is that there is a socio pathology to their coverage. The numbers narrative always eclipses the human narrative. And, Freudian slips reveal what lies beneath the surface of human consciousness. Sociopaths are those who have no feelings or regard for others. And, CNBC has a record of this with the likes of Jim Cramer, Rick Santelli, and Larry Kudlow. These people have intellectual intelligence, but not moral or social intelligence.
Japan was the number two economy in the world until last year when China took that position. Japan’s economy has struggled to regain its footing after it’s so-called “lost decade,” which was the result of a commercial real estate boom and bubble that burst. According to the Associated Press, “Honda said the production halt will cost it about 4,000 vehicles a day. Nissan said the tsunami damaged 1,300 vehicles bound for the United States, including its Infiniti luxury brand, at Hitachi port in Ibaraki state in the northeast, and 1,000 vehicles stored at another center.” On the streets of Hachinohe television streets were scattered all over the place.
The true value, human life, however, is almost indomitable. We are repeatedly beaten, wounded, and broken. But, we almost always get up ready to fight the good fight of life to live, to continue, to thrive, and to survive. And, it seems we are prone to keep making the same mistakes of the past.
Japanese Prime Minister Naota Ka, according to Bloomberg, “mobilized 100,000 troops and pledged an emergency-spending package to cope with the quake, the ensuing tsunami and a potential meltdown at a nuclear power station.” The likelihood is there for this devastating crisis to be for Japan what Hurricane Katrina was to the United States.
But, I think there will be one significant exception: human character. Asians are very disciplined and orderly. Some Americans are not. When the surviving and newly homeless residents of Louisiana were taken to the Houston Astrodome, the dark underbelly of American society was showcased. Rapes, murders, and beatings took place. It was so bad that in one account a young man tried to rape a 13-year old girl as she tried to sleep along side her mother. When she cried for help, people came to her rescue and stomped the rapist to death. That is the critical difference between the Japanese and some Americans. I do not think the Japanese will experience the rapes, beatings, and murders in the midst of catastrophe.
This nature-driven catastrophe in Japan is out of Jared Diamond’s thesis in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (also titled Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive). These coastal towns in Japan and other parts of the world like New Orleans tempt nature and expose their residents to the worst that nature can deliver. Let’s be honest. These communities were established and developed in geographically inappropriate areas.
To compound Japan’s woes, Shinmoedake volcano on Mount Kirishima located on Japan’s Kyushu island began erupting on Wednesday, March 9th. The volcano is about 950 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter and is located in southwestern Japan. Residents within a mile of the volcano were ordered to evacuate as smoke billowed 5,000 high up from the volcano’s crater top leaving a layer of volcanic ash on top of farms, roadways, and cars. As a result, slippery roadways were closed and airplane flights were cancelled.
Words cannot adequately describe the magnitude of the catastrophe that hit Japan. The coast line of Japan moved two-and-a-half meters, or just over eight feet. The quake was so strong that the earth’s rotation was slightly shaken from it’s normal orbit. Frankly, this Japanese off shore quake, tsunami, and volcano represents the worst series of natural disasters I’ve seen in my lifetime.
So let’s recap. The ring of fire. Off shore earthquakes. Tsunamis. A lifetime’s efforts washed away. Nuclear plants blow up and go into meltdown. Radioactive clouds taken by the wind. Volcanos in Japan and Indonesia blew their tops.
In times of crisis, many understandably ask the hard to answer existential questions. But they ask the questions with different motives. Some ask, why does God permit such catastrophes. Others insist that these types of catastrophes prove that there is no loving God as father over mankind.
I am not interested in arguing with anyone about the reality of God, geology and tectonics, or the moral fabric of the universe. Since the beginning of time, mankind believed that the gods sent earthquakes to punish mankind for wrong doing. That conviction is recorded in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. The last great earthquake will destroy everything on planet earth. Survivors will live in make shift tents. And, all of the survivors will have turned away from wrong doing.
In Japanese culture, there has always been a fear of the awesome and destructive powers of nature. As a result, the Japanese gave the world Godzilla … the fearsome monster that arises from beneath the watery depths to menace the people of Japan and destroy Tokyo. The refrain to this classic song is, “History shows again and again the folly of man. Godzilla!”