Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Massive earthquake, tsunami hit Japan

This sounds pretty bad:
A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 rocked northeastern Japan on Friday, measuring the highest level intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale, in Miyagi Prefecture, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Local police said many people were injured in the 2:46 p.m. quake, with reports of fires coming not only from the prefectural capital of Sendai but also from Tokyo, some 300 kilometers from Sendai, where a prolonged and powerful temblor was also felt.

The Metropolitan Police Department said many people were injured when part of the Kudan Kaikan hall in Chiyoda Ward in central Tokyo collapsed.

The agency issued a rare warning of huge tsunami for the Pacific coastal region including Iwate Prefecture. Public broadcaster NHK said a large number of cars were washed away into the sea when a tsunami hit the Kamaishi port in Iwate Prefecture.
The quake struck at 9:46 PM Pacific Time — about an hour and fifteen minutes ago, as of the time of this writing.

The United States Geological Survey is saying the quake registered 8.9 on the moment magnitude scale. It's being characterized as one of the largest earthquakes in the history of instrumental science (specifically, the seventh largest).

According to news reports, life in the city of Tokyo has come to a halt. Trains aren't running, ships are being told to stay out of port, and the skies have gone silent.

Entire cities in northern Japan have reportedly been destroyed — including, for instance, Kurihara, which has a population of 77,000 people.

As many readers know, Japan and other areas adjacent to the Pacific Ocean comprise a geological region known as the Ring of Fire. This horseshoe-shaped region is home to nearly three quarters of the world's active volcanoes, and it is also where a significant percentage of earthquakes strike. This is principally due to plate tectonics; a lot of subduction happens at the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

When earthquakes strike off a coastline, the resulting displacement of water can generate a tsunami, or seismic sea wave.

Seismic sea waves pose no hazard to ships out on the open ocean, but they can cause immense damage once they reach the coast. Contrary to what some movies would have you believe, tsunami do not roll ashore like a giant wind wave.

The phenomenon is more like a massive, unstoppable flood. Picture a river flooding a valley after breaking apart a dam... that's what a tsunami is like.

A tsunami warning is in effect for Russia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Taiwan, and several other nations not far from the epicenter. A tsunami watch is presently in effect for Hawaii and a number of Pacific Island nations. NOAA initially said there was no danger to Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, or British Columbia. However, a tsunami watch is now in effect for the entire Left Coast.

Here are thee vital stats for the quake, automatically generated by the United States Geological Survey USGS computer system:

Location38.322°N, 142.369°E
Depth24.4 km (15.2 miles) set by location program
Distances130 km (80 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) E of Yamagata, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) ENE of Fukushima, Honshu, Japan
373 km (231 miles) NE of TOKYO, Japan
Location Uncertaintyhorizontal +/- 13.5 km (8.4 miles); depth fixed by location program

Again, this looks pretty bad. One of the biggest disasters to strike Japan in its history, for sure. We'll bring you reaction and response in the coming hours, including President Obama's statement when it is released.

UPDATE, 11:52 PM: A tsunami warning is now in effect for Hawaii. Residents there should prepare to head for higher ground.

The Honolulu Advertiser has more:
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami watch at 7:56 p.m. after the quake struck 231 miles northeast of Tokyo. The watch was upgraded to a more serious warning about 9:30 p.m.

"A tsunami has been generated that could cause damage along coastlines of all islands in the state of Hawaii," the agency said. "Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property."

The warning center said wave heights cannot be predicted, but the first wave may not be the largest.

The earliest that hazardous waves could hit Hawaii is 2:59 a.m., said the agency, based in Ewa Beach.

The agency said it will issue updates at least hourly.

"We have been in touch with Civil Defense, but we're in watch mode now," said Donalyn Dela Cruz, a spokeswoman for Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Residents of the Hawaiian Islands should begin preparing to evacuate immediately now that the tsunami watch has been upgraded to a warning.


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