3 weeks on, I have been watching reports on NHK World. 27,000 people are dead or missing, and this figure is likely to rise further, since if a whole family was wiped out, there would be nobody to report them missing… A high proportion of the casualties are elderly, who perished because they were unable to get themselves to safety in the short time between earthquake, tsunami warning and tsunami. The number of children killed seems to have been under 1000, presumably because they were at school in soon-to-be evacuation centres. The clear-up and search for bodies continues.
443 sq.km of land was inundated, of which about 110 sq km was urban. Some farmland is still flooded with trapped salt water.
In places the tsunami was much higher than previously reported, with ground conditions funneling the water to heights as great as 28 metres (~93ft).
Fishing boats that survived the tsunami are idle because the fish docks are destroyed. Stranded ships still lie where the tsunami left them. Food distribution is in the hands of supermarket chains, who are struggling because of wrecked distribution centres, and inflexible computer systems that don’t allow shops to order from alternative centres.
Japanese industry has been badly affected, because of a system of sub-contracting that demonstrated its fragility when the loss of washed-out subcontractors caused production lines elsewhere to stop for lack of a component. Car engine plants worldwide became idle because of damage at a Hitachi plant which supplied 40% of the global output of engine management electronics! Rolling power cuts have been severely disruptive to industrial processes reliant on a continuous supply of electrical power for heating, motive power and control electronics.
Japanese volunteers have been travelling to the disaster area and offering help, despite difficulties such as a lack of any building to base themselves in. Displaced persons are still stuck in emergency centres without proper accomodation, heat or washing facilities. (Anywhere other than Japan they’d probably be rioting by now.)
At the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, engineers are still struggling to contain the problem. While nobody is saying much, there is a hint that some outside experts aren’t impressed by the pre-disaster planning or the management response. The Japanese government has just announced that the plants will not be repaired, as if any fule couldn’t see that from day 3.
A small amount of quick-build housing is being put up, about 0.1 % of what is required. Everywhere, locals and SDF troops, and some American forces, are working hard to sort things out. One phrase notably absent however from the reports I’ve seen is “the Government acted” or “the Government did” which points to a serious weakness in the Japanese state. Victims seem philosophical about the non-arrival of aid, saying things to camera like “They haven’t got around to us yet”. Seems that there was widespread dissatisfaction about the official response to the Hanshin/Kobe earthquake in the 19990’s – what will happen this time?