Environment Forum

Disasterology 6: Signs of commerce return to “The Town That Disappeared”

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

As shopping centers go, the Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village is minor: a fish monger, a beauty parlor, a vegetable stand and a florist, along with a few other stores. The people who run the shops live elsewhere since their homes were destroyed by the 2011 tsunami, and the areas that flooded are still not considered safe for residents to return.

Business is not exactly brisk on a lovely October morning, but the fact that there is business at all is significant. Minamisanriku has become known as “The Town That Disappeared” after the March 3 tsunami swallowed the broad valley where schools, homes, offices and the city’s disaster mitigation building were located.

The fishery, basis of one of the town’s main businesses (the other was tourism) was destroyed, said Shinya Chiba, an official with the local fisheries association. The fish were never contaminated, but of the 1,100 fishing boats that went out before the disaster, only 70 came back. Of those, only 20 were suitable for fish farming in Shizagawa Bay.

“I myself was a victim after the disaster,” Chiba told a group of international journalists, speaking through a translator. “There was no place to live, no food to eat. We couldn’t make any plans for our lives, for our future.”

Disasterology 5: When the high ground isn’t high enough

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

The school children in Minamisanriku knew what to do in case of a tsunami: run as fast as they could up the hill to the Togura middle school, perched more than 40 meters, or 131 feet, above Shizagawa Bay. This wasn’t high enough when the waves rolled in on March 3, 2011.

The waves were 10 meters (32 feet) high at sea, but reached more than 50 meters (164 feet) when they slammed into the land in this part of Japan’s beach-and-mountain fringed east coast. The tsunami created a swirling whirlpool in, around and finally, on top of the school, according to Sachie Shijo, a native of Minamisanriku and a volunteer now with the non-profit group Peace Winds, which is helping the town to recover. The water came from the landward side, as well as from the sea, Shijo said through a translator. It was everywhere.

Disasterology 4: Disaster Candy in Japan


For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

A fair featuring cartoon frogs and rhinos, baskets of toys to trade and hands-on crafts might sound like the answer to a parent’s prayer on a rainy weekend. But this was a fair with a difference: the annual Bo-Sai Expo in Tokyo, an event meant to prepare young families for disaster.

Two-and-a-half years after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that devastated parts of Japan, hundreds of kids showed up on Oct. 5 and 6 at the Gas Science Museum and an adjacent upscale shopping mall for the fair. Strangely enough, it wasn’t grim.

Disasterology 3: Learning to shout after the Fukushima disaster

For survivors of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast, the Sendai tsunami in Japan and the massive earthquake in Chengdu, China, the scars of disaster are still palpable. I’m part of a group of journalists brought together by the East-West Center in Hawaii to see how the people and environments hit by these catastrophes are faring, one year,  two years and five years later. We began our tour on Sept. 29. Here are the other posts in the series:

On the afternoon of March 3, 2011, Japan’s public television network NHK was broadcasting a session of parliament live when warning chimes and a bulletin flashed across screens: “This is an earthquake early warning,” an announcer said. “Beware of a strong earthquake … The Tokyo studio is shaking right now.” When the picture switched to the studio, the announcer continued to speak in a calm voice. This was common practice, meant to avoid causing panic.

That changed after the 3/11 disaster, which included an earthquake, a tsunami and the nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima. Now, news presenters may shout their warnings, said Takehiko Kusaba, director of of media strategy and cooperation in NHK’s news department. Shouting, he said, can save lives if it helps people evacuate quickly. The language can be uncharacteristically harsh for Japanese television, as tough as a simple, “Go away!”

The power of a soccer ball

Anyone who watched the women’s World Cup final might have wondered if it’s possible to harness that pure human energy. Turns out, it is. There’s enough power in a soccer ball to light the night — or at least a part of it.

It’s done via sOccket, a soccer ball that kids kick around all day, where its movement generates energy. When the sun sets, plug an LED lamp into the ball and it turns into a light for reading or other purposes. Play with the sOccket for 15 minutes and use the light for up to three hours. Sustainable, non-polluting, safe.

SOccket was created to solve a pervasive problem — the lack of reliable electricity — with a pervasive game. More than one-fifth of the world’s population, about 1.4 billion people, lack electric power, but kids almost everywhere play soccer.

from The Great Debate UK:

The safest form of power: Everything in moderation

By Morven McCulloch

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan, seriously damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has led to anti-nuclear protests in several countries and forced governments to rethink their energy policies.

The UK currently has 10 nuclear power stations, representing 18 percent of the country’s energy supply according to Energy UK. Should British Prime Minister David Cameron, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reverse his position on the safety of nuclear power?

Environment and climate scientist Lord Julian Hunt told Reuters in a video interview that although the situation at the Fukushima plant is an “extremely serious event,” there are risks to consider with every type of power.

from Reuters Investigates:

Is a 10 percent chance of disaster too high for a nuclear power station?

JAPAN-QUAKE/Kevin Krolicki has another alarming special report from Japan today challenging the assertion that the disaster facing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was beyond expections.

The report quotes Tokyo Electric's own researchers who did a study in 2007 on the risk of tsunamis: 

The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

Appropriately enough, it’s National Tsunami Awareness Week

The U.S. government has announced this as National Tsunami Awareness Week, starting just days after a disastrous tsunami powered over Japan’s northeast coast. Not that anyone necessarily needed reminding.

This week’s advisory, which urges U.S. residents to be prepared for a damaging series of waves, was scheduled before the March 11 Japanese catastrophe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the second annual observance of Tsunami Awareness Week. It’s too soon to tell if there might be a pattern emerging: last year’s observance came not long after a giant wave hit the Chilean port of Talcahuano following an 8.8 magnitude quake along Chile’s coast.

Here’s how the Japanese tsunami spread its force across the Pacific:

While the United States may not seem like a prime tsunami target, the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska have long been susceptible. NOAA notes the United States has more coastline than any country on Earth and is in proximity to several major fault lines. Any coastline is potentially in a tsunami’s path.

New monkey puzzles scientists: why does it sneeze in the rain?

A monkeynew species of monkey has been found in northern Myanmar, puzzling scientists because of a snub nose that means they are often heard “sneezing in the rain”.

Why would anyone want — let alone evolve – nostrils that fill up with water?

The find of the new type of snub-nosed monkey (story here) coincides with a U.N. meeting in Nagoya, Japan, this week to decide what to do about accelerating losses of species of animals and plants because of human threats, such as loss of habitats to farms or cities or the effects of climate change.

Are whales and dolphins smart enough to get special rights?

whaleSome conservationists and experts on philosophy and ethics reckon that whales and dolphins are so intelligent that they should be given rights to life like humans. That could mean extra pressure on whalers in Japan, Norway and Iceland to end their hunts.

The focus on rights is a shift after conservationists successfully won a ban on almost all whale hunts from 1986, arguing that they had been harpooned close to extinction.

And in recent years (with evidence that some stocks are big enough to withstand hunts), many opponents say the moratorium should stay in place, arguing that shooting grenade-tipped harpoons at whales can mean a long, cruel death.

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