Scientists upgraded the devastating earthquake that struck Japan from 8.8 or 8.9 to 9.0 on the Richter Scale. That may not sound like much but the scale is logarithmic effectively doubling the estimated size of the quake.
Regardless of what the number is, the quake was devastating enough to move the main island of Japan 8 feet while shifting the earth on its axis. Entire villages in Northern Japan are missing, swept away by the resultant tsunamis.
Meanwhile Japanese authorities struggling with additional meltdowns have flooded a second reactor with seawater hoping to cool the plant. This is a desperate action that will probably ruin both facilities.
Power outages and lack of fresh water add to the misery.
Villages, Trains Vanish Under Wall of Water
The New York Times reports Japan Pushes to Rescue Survivors as Quake Toll Rises
While nuclear experts were grappling with possible meltdowns at two reactors after the devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami in northern Japan, the country was mobilizing a nationwide rescue effort to pluck survivors from collapsed buildings and rush food and water to hundreds of thousands of people without water, electricity, heat or telephone service.
Entire villages in parts of Japan’s northern Pacific coast have vanished under a wall of water, and many communities are cut off, leaving the country trying to absorb the scale of the destruction even as fears grew over the unfolding nuclear emergency.
In the port town of Minamisanriku, nearly 10,000 people were unaccounted for, according to the public broadcaster NHK. Much of the northeast was impassable, and by late Saturday rescuers had not arrived in the worst-hit areas.
JR, the railway company, reported that three passenger trains had not been accounted for as of Saturday night, amid fears that they were swept away by the tsunami. There were reports of as many as 3,400 buildings destroyed and 200 fires raging. Analysts estimated that total insured losses from the quake could hit $15 billion, Reuters reported.
Even as estimates of the death toll from Friday’s quake rose, Japan’s prime minister, Naoto Kan, said 100,000 troops would be mobilized for the increasingly desperate rescue recovery effort. Meanwhile, several ships from the United States Navy joined the rescue effort. The McCampbell and the Curtis Wilbur, both destroyers, prepared to move into position off Miyagi Prefecture.
One-third of Kesennuma, a city of 74,000, was reported to be submerged, the BBC said, and photographs showed fires continued to rage there. Iwate, a coastal city of 23,000 people, was reported to be almost completely destroyed, the BBC said.
Crisis Expands to Second Nuclear Plant
MarketWatch reports Japanese nuclear-power crisis expands to second plant
Citing Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency, Kyodo News reported the cooling system failed at the Tokai No. 2 Power station. No additional information was available. Tokai, about 75 miles from Tokyo and the site of nuclear-research facilities as well as the power plant, was the site of a 1999 radiation leak, known as the Tokaimura accident, that killed two technicians.
Word of the problem at Tokai came as Japanese nuclear authorities continued working Sunday to avert nuclear meltdown at an earthquake-damaged power plant, Prime Minister Naoto Kan warned Japan of large-scale power blackouts and said the disaster was the country’s biggest crisis since World War II. That came as Japanese scientists increased their estimate of the largest earthquake in the nation’s history to magnitude 9.0 from 8.8, more than doubling the size and the destructive energy release in the Friday afternoon, local time, quake off the coast of Honshu.
[Officials] began flooding the second reactor with seawater, a drastic move that scientists have said might render the units unusable. But the water gauge in the No. 3 has stopped functioning, making it impossible to tell whether the procedure is succeeding, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Earthquake Moves Main Island Eight Feet and Shifts Earth on its Axis
The powerful earthquake that unleashed a devastating tsunami Friday appears to have moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet (2.4 meters) and shifted the Earth on its axis.
“At this point, we know that one GPS station moved (8 feet), and we have seen a map from GSI (Geospatial Information Authority) in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass,” said Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Reports from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy estimated the 8.9-magnitude quake shifted the planet on its axis by nearly 4 inches (10 centimeters).
The Japanese quake comes just weeks after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch on February 22, toppling historic buildings and killing more than 150 people. The timeframe of the two quakes have raised questions whether the two incidents are related, but experts say the distance between the two incidents makes that unlikely.
“I would think the connection is very slim,” said Prof. Stephan Grilli, ocean engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island.
Bank of Japan Readies “Massive Liquidity”
Governor Masaaki Shirakawa told reporters late yesterday he’s ready to unleash “massive” liquidity starting this morning in Tokyo, as the BOJ seeks to assure financial stability.
Shirakawa and his board could opt to accelerate asset purchases, including government bonds and exchange-traded funds, within the existing credit programs, particularly if the yen climbs and stocks tumble, said Masaaki Kanno, chief Japan economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo, who used to work at the central bank.
The economic hit from the March 11 quake will depend on how long it shuts down factories and the distribution of goods and services, with the potential meltdown at a nuclear power facility clouding the outlook. For now, the central bank is likely to ensure lenders have enough cash to settle transactions, and aim any additional steps at providing credit in the areas of northeastern Japan devastated by the temblor, analysts said.
Japan’s currency rose 1.4 percent to 81.84 per dollar March 11 amid prospects for Japanese investors to repatriate assets, bringing its gain in the past year to 10 percent. The government may order the BOJ to sell yen if it soars, Mansoor Mohi-uddin, head of global currency strategy at UBS AG in Singapore, wrote in a note.
Japan is already struggling with huge fiscal deficits and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 200%, highest in the G-20 group of nations. In response, government officials had been planning a series of tax hikes. You can now safely toss those hikes straight into the ashcan.
There is never a good time for a natural disaster, but this one could hardly have come at a worse time. Best wishes to all those affected by this crisis.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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