Earthquake in Japan (March 2011) — 1

11 March 2011 — 13:00 GMT; 22:00 in Japan

You never lose the fear of earthquakes instilled in you, once you’ve experienced a strong one. Earthquakes are sudden and unpredictable, which can cause a huge amount of deaths, injuries and damage in a matter of seconds, and also cause a number of other secondary disasters, such as fire and tsunami. Humans are utterly powerless in the face of earth’s power: you can’t fight an earthquake like a fire, you can’t erect a wall of sandbags like at flooding. Earthquakes strike the the infrastructure that modern society depends on, including power, water supply, public transport and telecommunications.

There are aftershocks as well, which may not be as powerful as the initial quake, but buildings and structures already weakened by the first quake often cannot cope with further quakes. Aftershocks also hamper rescue and fire-fighting operations, when seconds and minutes matter, and can be the difference between life and death.

The entire northern Japan has been affected by this quake, and many houses on or near the Pacific Ocean in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures have been completely destroyed by the tsunami, and there are many reports of fire. There are countless missing, as well as numerous dead and injured whose numbers are steadily and grimly rising as the time passes. Perhaps worryingly, an evacuation has been ordered to those living within a 3 km radius of a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, as a precautionary measure, for there is a possibility of radiation leak, since one of the emergency power supplies failed.

This was the largest quake ever recorded in Japan. Its epicentre was not directly underneath a heavily populated area, like it was in 1995 for the Hanshin-Awaji quake around Kobe, but off-shore. But that is little comfort when loss of life and damage to property have been so extensive, and the full picture of the damages caused by this quake is yet to emerge.