Earthquake in Japan (March 2011) — 5

11 March 2011 — Last update: 23:45 GMT; 08:45 (12 March 2011) in Japan

With the daybreak, a clearer picture of the extent of the disaster has been slowly emerging. There are many pictures and video clips, widely available in various media outlets. However, it remains the case that information currently available is patchy, and there are no global figures about the dead, the injured, and the missing, as well as damages to property. There are too many who are unaccounted to make any accurate estimation.

For the worst affected areas, which are northern prefectures of Japan, and in particular the coastal areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the devastation caused by the tsunamis have been extensive. In many places, districts and settlements have been completely destroyed and washed away. Numerous local authorities are struggling to account for people and the full picture will not be known for some time.

The Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant no 1 reactor has been leaking radiation, and there are problems reported with other plants in the same complex. Evacuation has been ordered for those living within a 10 km radius of the plant. Other nuclear power stations have been shut down, reducing the capacity to generate electricity, and there is a widespread power cut. Not only is there a problem with generating sufficient amount of electricity, but the infrastructure to supply electricity and gas has been severely damaged in many areas of northern Japan.

Many people have problems with communication, as both landline and mobile telephone networks are still down across most parts of northern Japan and in some parts of Kanto. A large number of base stations are not working, and telephone cables have been severed, including one submarine cable, linking northern and southern Japan. This also means that a substantial number of people do not currently have access to the internet.

Alongside collapsed houses, or structures swept away by the tsunamis, there have been various reports of mudslides and dams bursting, further hampering co-ordination and movement. There are fires raging in many cities and towns, and some are close to the evacuation points, where many people have assembled for their own safety.

Public transport is starting to work again in the Tokyo area, but no resumption of service is in imminent in the worst affected areas.

There have been regular and constant aftershocks, both to the north and to the south of the epicentre, and some of these aftershocks are big quakes on their own right, sufficient to cause tsunamis. In addition to this off-shore quake and its aftershocks in northern Japan, there have been strong quakes in the border area between Nagano and Niigata prefectures (see the second map in the column for the location), which has previously had a number of large quakes. Seismologists are not sure whether quakes in two separate regions are related or not. The quake in northern Japan may not have been the direct cause for the quakes in Nagano / Niigata, however, the massive earthquake may have changed the geological conditions, making quakes likelier.