Japan Earthquake Update: Emergency Relief Briefing
UPDATE: Due to increased radiation levels, the team is holding off on their departure - Will Update you all in the AM.
12 March 2011
I really don’t know where to start – there has been so much destruction over such a large area. The death toll is now somewhere near 1000 but with the lack of communication throughout the affected area, this is a number that is sure to increase. “Tens of thousands are unaccounted for”. The worst hit zone appears to be the port city of Sendai (population > 1M) and much like 2004, the tsunami was more destructive than the earthquake as a 10m wave washed over the city. 26 aftershocks greater than 6.0 have occurred since the 8.9 earthquake and scientists are concerned that many more will occur and there is a fear that another major quake could hit the area much like what occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Police are saying that at least 300,000 people have fled their homes and there have been reports of entire villages being swept away. Local authorities reported that almost 10,000 people – out of a population of 17,000 – were missing from the fishing port of Minamisanriku, which was engulfed by huge waves that swept inland for six miles.
It will be days – possibly weeks – before we really know the total impact of the earthquake and tsunami. Rescue and relief teams are coming in from all over the world with the first emphasis on trying to rescue individuals trapped under the rubble or stranded on rooftops.
And to compound the fears of residents, a large explosion occurred today at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan. Officials say the container housing the reactor was not damaged and sea water is being pumped into the reactor to cool it. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the area and BBC is reporting 110,000 people have been moved away from the plant. Another 30,000 have been evacuated from a 10km radius around Fukushima No. 2 plant. But full evacuation measures had not been completed as the government just increased the evacuation zone to 20 km.
As you can imagine, much of the area is without power (6M households) and supplies are short and difficult to come by. We were able to reach Kazu, our in-country veterinary contact late Friday who is very near the impacted area. He and his daughter have helped IFAW’s efforts in this area before with our work with oil spill response and training.
I received this brief comment from Kazu earlier today, “There is no way to get the site, except maybe hiring helicopter. Public transportation is not an option, yes cars but no gas stations. Communications are also limited, only public phones from inside those area are reasonably reliable.” Kazu has met with the President of the Tokyo Veterinary Association and is working hard to determine animal impact.
There were reports earlier today that zoos and aquaria were impacted but Kazu reports, “Two aquarium was damaged by tsunami. There are not severe damages with other zoo and aquarium. Now, Japan Zoo & Wild life Medicine Association has been checking up on there.”
We continue to reach out to government and non-government agencies to determine if there what role if any IFAW can play, this typically it takes 7-10 days before animal issues are usually addressed so we will try to be as patient as possible but obviously we are quite anxious to be able to join the relief efforts. Fortunately, IFAW has many good friends in the country..
13 March 2011
1700 hr. I’m sure that everyone is aware of the latest threat in Japan – a meltdown of the nuclear reactor(s). It has been a day of ups and downs as various “experts” weigh in on the dangers. But the latest at this hour is that the possibility of a massive radiation exposure remains (reasonably) low. They continue to flood the reactors with saltwater in an attempt to cool them and the Prime Minister is doing everything he can to allay fear -but the situation is dangerous and we will be watching it closely.
The death toll continues to climb and is now listed at just less than 1600 but many fear that number will reach 10,000.
Power is being restored and many services are slowly come back on line in Tokyo though there are extreme shortages in food, fuel, and critical supplies. And then there is the constant reminder of the fear of additional aftershocks - "The news is telling us that there is a 70% change of another 7.0 or greater earthquake within three days," said CNN iReporter Gabriel Rodriguez.
Hopefully we will soon be able to provide our own pictures as we have decided to dispatch an assessment team tomorrow and will be comprised of Emergency Relief Manager Dick Green, Emergency Relief Communications Officer Mike Booth, and Emergency Relief Officer Shannon Walajtys. Our immediate goal is to meet with local rescue groups and government officials and to see as much of the impacted area as possible and better determine IFAW’s role in the relief effort.
As we saw most recently in Haiti, major disasters require long-term planning and a concerted effort between NGO and governmental ranks to ensure that the greatest number of animals and humans benefit from the intervention.
I will provide an update once we’re on the ground in Japan sometime in the next 24-36 hours.