Special: Japan’s Earthquake & Tsunami, Obama & the World React

HISTORY BUZZ SPECIAL

History Buzz

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

HISTORY BUZZ SPECIAL: JAPAN’S EARTHQUAKE & TSUNAMI: THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

IN FOCUS:

Kyodo News, via Associated Press

  • 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: A massive 8.9/9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific Ocean nearby Northeastern Japan at around 2:46pm on March 11 (JST) causing damage with blackouts, fire and tsunami. On this page we are providing the information regarding the disaster and damage with realtime updates. The large earthquake triggered a tsunami warning for countries all around the Pacific ocean…. – Google Crisis Response
  • EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI HITS JAPAN
    On March 11, 2011, a huge earthquake struck Japan, churning up a devastating tsunami that swept over cities and farmland along the northern part of the country and threatened coastal areas throughout the Pacific.
    Walls of water whisked away houses and cars in northern Japan, where terrified residents fled the coast. Trains were shut down across central and northern Japan, including Tokyo, and air travel was severely disrupted. A ship carrying more than 100 people was swept away by the tsunami, Kyodo News reported. A fire broke out at the nuclear plant in Onagawa, but Japanese officials said it was extinguished.
    Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the disaster caused major damage across wide areas. Several hours after the quake, Kyodo News reported 59 deaths, but with rescue efforts just getting under way, the extent of injuries and damage is not yet known. The United States Geological Survey said the earthquake had a magnitude of 8.9, and occurred at about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo and at a revised depth of about 17 miles. The Japanese Meteorological Agency said the quake had a magnitude of 8.8, which would make it among the biggest in a century.
    The quake occurred at 2:46 p.m. Tokyo time and hit off Honshu, Japan’s most populous island. The quake was so powerful that buildings in central Tokyo, designed to withstand major earthquakes, swayed…. – NYT: Tidal Waves and Tsunamis
  • How people can help Japanese earthquake recovery: The U.S. government and other nations were sending personnel to assist Japan in its response to the earthquakes and tsunami that have devastated the country. U.S. aid groups were accepting private donations for relief efforts…. – AP, 3-13-11
  • Strength of deadly Japan quake increased to 9.0: …U.S. government scientists originally put the Japan quake at 8.9. The change to 9.0 means that the quake was about 1.5 times stronger than initially thought. The Japan quake is now the fourth largest in the world since 1900 behind the 2004 magnitude-9.1 Sumatra quake. – AP, 3-14-11
  • Earthquakes 101: How they happen Columbia University seismologist explains in simple terms; Says we’re in period of frequent mega-quakes:
    It all has to do with plates that make up the Earth’s crust moving around, seismologist James Gaherty, a Lamont associate research professor at Columbia University explained to “Early Show on Saturday Morning” co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis.
    “Most earthquakes occur on the boundaries of the very large tectonic plates that make up the outer rigid crust of the earth,” Gaherty said. “These plates are all shifting around relative to each other, in many places moving fairly rapidly, inches per year relative to each other, and they push against each other, some places going underneath, other places rubbing past each other. So, the western part of the Pacific Ocean, for example, the ‘Ring of Fire’ (earthquake hotbed along the Pacific Rim) — that all takes place on these tectonic boundaries. That’s where we get these earthquakes.
    “In this part of Japan, basically, the Pacific Plate is trying to move underneath the Earth’s crust where Japan sits. … It’s moving down underneath, constantly building up pressure as it tries to move underneath and, in this case, it releases that pressure, and these very large earthquakes occur in a very large area along the entire length of the coastline of Japan … on the order of 200 miles along the length… – CBS News, 3-12-11

HEADLINES:

  • Obama: US will stand by longtime ally Japan: President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. will stand by long-time ally Japan as it recovers from last week’s earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis that those twin disasters spawned. The White House said that despite the emergency, nuclear power remains “vital” to U.S. energy policy…. – AP, 3-14-11
  • Japan earthquake accelerated Earth’s rotation, study finds: By changing the distribution of mass on the earth, Japan’s earthquake sped up the planet’s rotation, shortening the day by 1.8 microseconds, a new analysis has found…. – CS Monitor, 3-14-11
  • For Elderly, Echoes of War’s Horrors: Hirosato Wako stared at the ruins of his small fishing hamlet: skeletons of shattered buildings, twisted lengths of corrugated steel, corpses with their hands twisted into claws. Only once before had he seen anything like it: World War II.
    “I lived through the Sendai air raids,” said Mr. Wako, 75, referring to the Allied bombings of the northeast’s largest city. “But this is much worse.”… – NYT, 3-15-11
  • Big quake is latest in cluster that began in ’04: The massive earthquake that shook Japan yesterday, creating a destructive tsunami, is the latest in a series of especially fierce temblors since 2004 — after four decades without such large quakes.
    No one knows, however, if the recent run of extreme earthquakes — including the 9.1 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and last year’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile — portends more large earthquakes around the Pacific Rim in the near future, because there is no way to predict exactly where, when, and how big an earthquake will be.
    There was a cluster of extremely large earthquakes from 1946 to 1964, a period that ended with the 9.2 magnitude Alaskan earthquake, the second largest since 1900.
    Now, after 40 years of less powerful seismic activity, there have been a dozen earthquakes of 8.0 magnitude or greater. Yesterday’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake was the fifth strongest since 1900…. – Boston Globe, 3-12-11
  • Powerful Quake and Tsunami Devastate Northern Japan: Rescuers struggled to reach survivors on Saturday morning as Japan reeled after an earthquake and a tsunami struck in deadly tandem. The 8.9-magnitude earthquake set off a devastating tsunami that sent walls of water washing over coastal cities in the north. Concerns mounted over possible radiation leaks from two nuclear plants near the earthquake zone.
    The death toll from the tsunami and earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan, was in the hundreds, but Japanese news media quoted government officials as saying that it would almost certainly rise to more than 1,000. About 200 to 300 bodies were found along the waterline in Sendai, a port city in northeastern Japan and the closest major city to the epicenter.
    Thousands of homes were destroyed, many roads were impassable, trains and buses were not running, and power and cellphones remained down. On Saturday morning, the JR rail company said that there were three trains missing in parts of two northern prefectures…. – NYT, 3-12-11First Person: Reporter Describes Massive Quake

QUOTES:

  • The Earthquake in Japan and Tsunami Preparedness: Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the people of Japan, particularly those who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and tsunamis. The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy. We will continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward and we are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials as I have instructed FEMA to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the US states and territories that could be affected. WH, 3-11-11
  • The Ongoing Response to the Earthquakes and Tsunami in Japan: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has released an overview of the United States’ reponse in support of our friends in Japan.
  • * For information on how you can help directly, USAID has pulled together options for donating to support the response effort. * Any U.S Citizens in need of emergency assistance should send an e-mail to
  • JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov with detailed information about their location and contact information, and monitor the U.S. Department of State website at travel.state.gov. Statement from the Press Secretary on the Ongoing U.S. Response to the Earthquakes and Tsunami in Japan
    Our thoughts and our prayers remain with the people of Japan. The President has been kept fully briefed on developments and the response throughout the weekend. As directed by the President, we have offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed as America will stand with Japan as they recover and rebuild. – WH, 3-13-11
  • Joseph Lieberman: “My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan and all those affected by this devastating natural disaster, including the thousands of American citizens in Japan. America has no better friend and ally in Asia than Japan, and we in the United States must stand ready to mobilize any assistance we can to help as quickly as possible. The people of the United States stand in solidarity with the people of Japan through the difficult days ahead.
    “As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I am also monitoring closely the tsunami warnings that have been issued for parts of the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, and parts of the West Coast. I urge all Americans in areas potentially affected to heed these advisories, follow the warnings that have been issued, and listen carefully for updates from authorities.” — Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) – LIEBERMAN STATEMENT ON JAPANESE DISASTER
  • The President’s Press Conference: The Causes, Government Response, and Long-Term Solutions to Rising Gas Prices: But the bottom line is this. We’ve been having this conversation for nearly four decades now. Every few years, gas prices go up; politicians pull out the same old political playbook, and then nothing changes. And when prices go back down, we slip back into a trance. And then when prices go up, suddenly we’re shocked. I think the American people are tired of that. I think they’re tired of talk. We’ve got to work together – Democrats, Republicans, and everybody in between –- to finally secure America’s energy future. I don’t want to leave this for the next President, and none of us should want to leave it for our kids…. – WH, 3-11-11
  • News Conference by the President, South Court Auditorium: THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan earlier today.
    First and foremost, our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Japan. This is a potentially catastrophic disaster and the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking. Japan is, of course, one of our strongest and closest allies, and this morning I spoke with Prime Minister Kan. On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed.
    We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan, and another is on its way. We also have a ship en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed. The Defense Department is working to account for all our military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo have moved to an offsite location. And the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country.
    Tsunami warnings have been issued across the Pacific, and we’ve already seen initial waves from the tsunami come ashore on Guam and other U.S. territories, in Alaska and Hawaii, as well as on — along the West Coast. Here in the United States, there hasn’t been any major damage so far. But we’re taking this very seriously, and we are monitoring the situation very closely. FEMA is fully activated and is coordinating with state and local officials to support these regions as necessary. And let me just stress that if people are told to evacuate, do as you are told.
    Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy…. – WH, 3-11-11
  • The Earthquake in Japan and Tsunami Preparedness: Good morning, everybody. Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan earlier today.
    First and foremost, our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Japan. This is a potentially catastrophic disaster and the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking. Japan is, of course, one of our strongest and closest allies, and this morning I spoke with Prime Minister Kan. On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed.
    We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan, and another is on its way. We also have a ship en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed. The Defense Department is working to account for all our military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo have moved to an offsite location. And the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country.
    Tsunami warnings have been issued across the Pacific, and we’ve already seen initial waves from the tsunami come ashore on Guam and other U.S. territories, in Alaska and Hawaii, as well as on — along the West Coast. Here in the United States, there hasn’t been any major damage so far. But we’re taking this very seriously, and we are monitoring the situation very closely. FEMA is fully activated and is coordinating with state and local officials to support these regions as necessary. And let me just stress that if people are told to evacuate, do as you are told.
    Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy…. – WH, 3-11-11

HISTORIAN VIEWPOINTS:

  • Kerry Smith: History of Earthquakes in Japan: Earthquakes and tsunamis are woven into the psyche of Japan. Kerry Smith, professor of history at Brown and author of “A Time of Crisis: Japan, the Great Depression, and Rural Revitalization,” talks about the immediacy of watching disaster unfold and the effect that may have on contemporary Japanese society. He also remembers how the natural history of the country has become embedded in the social and political history of the country…. – The Takeaway, 3-11-11Download Mp3
  • Ken Osgood: FAU Professor stranded on train during Japanese earthquake Dr. Osgood felt the train rock “like a boat.”: Some South Florida residents found themselves caught right in the middle of the calamity in Japan. An FAU history professor and his wife experienced one of the worst natural disasters in history when the massive quake struck. Dr. Ken Osgood teaches in Palm Beach County; however, he’s in Massachusetts right now, working as a visiting professor. On Friday, he and his wife, Rachel, were on a bullet train outside of Tokyo when everything came to a stop.
    “The train starts rocking and it feels like a boat on the tracks,” said Dr. Osgood. “When you look out the window, it just looked like our train was rocking,” he said, “like a really strong wind was blowing a car on the freeway.”
    “It’s one of those weird things where you’re seeing it on the screen and the announcer is talking in a language you don’t understand,” he said. “We still had a difficult time comprehending the magnitude of this thing.”
    “We were in the 7th floor of a hotel so we definitely experienced them,” he explained. “At one point, while I was taking a shower, my wife saw the whole room shake and was deeply panicked by the whole thing.”
    “That sent my heart rate soaring,” Osgood admitted. “Both my wife and I nearly went into a panic. We said, “We’ve got to get the hell out of here.”
    “We didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until we felt the wheels come off the ground and everyone on the plane cheered and clapped,” he said. “The only thing we could think about was our kids,” Osgood said. “There were moments when each of us thought we might not see them again.”
    “They must have thought we were nuts because we came in through security bawling our eyes out and held them tight like they were going to blow away,” he said… – WPTV, 3-14-11
  • FAU professor tells of horror in Japan: “We had a harrowing 36 hours — easily the most stressful and frightening of our lives. We were on a bullet train to Tokyo when the earthquake struck. The train stopped. All power off. It rocked like a boat on the tracks. Then we were stuck on the train for five hours, much of it without power.
    “Because of the language barrier, and the general confusion, only gradually did we learn that Japan had been struck by the largest earthquake in its history, the fifth largest ever recorded anywhere. Slowly, very slowly, we began moving again. When we finally pulled into Tokyo, we were among thousands of stranded people.
    “After walking the city for several hours in search of a place to go, we spent the night sleeping in a hotel lobby. The staff graciously fed us soup and provided us showers. That night, Tokyo experienced one aftershock after another, some 50 of them, many above 6.0. All trains and buses were stopped. Phone lines were jammed. We didn’t know if we could make it to the airport, or if, upon arriving there, we would be stranded with throngs of other passengers seeking a way out.
    “I called my Dad in the U.S. time and again, while he made call after call to the airlines seeking a way for us to get home. Holding on to what I was sure was a very vain hope, we headed to the subway the next day in the hopes of finding some way home. With a throng of people, we boarded one of the very first trains to go north towards Narita airport.
    “It was a slow ride. En route we received word that the nuclear reactor to the north of us was releasing radioactivity to prevent it from going critical. The previous day we had visited Hiroshima, and the news sent our heart rates soaring. We imagined the worst.
    “Then miracles happened. We made it to the airport without incident. With Rachel crying away at the ticket counter, and me barely keeping it together, we got tickets on the next outbound flight to the US. We breezed through security, customs, and passport control, arriving at our gate minutes before boarding began. We loaded the plane quickly, and we ended up on a virtually empty aircraft all to ourselves.
    “Earplugs, eye masks, and sleeping pills did the trick — woke up about an hour before landing. I was never so happy to be on a plane, and never has anyone been so happy to be in Detroit.
    “Many people helped along the way. So many kind Japanese stopped to see if we, the foreigners, were OK. Many offered help or gave us food or water. Many helped translate. Many gave directions. Many expressed concern for our well being. I still can’t believe the incredible kindness of strangers, the remarkable calmness and friendliness of the Japanese.
    “We feel so fortunate to be home, and we hugged our kids to the point of tears when we arrived in Albany. We are still shaken by the stress of it all. We send many prayers to our Japanese friends, and we send even more thanks to the many of our friends here who prayed for us too.
    “Today we went to church, and the closing hymn had the chorus: “Bring us home.” Amen to that.” – Sun Sentinel, 3-14-11
  • Joseph Laker: Local Professor Reflects On Living In Japan, Earthquake Devastation: Joseph Laker, a history professor at Wheeling Jesuit University, said Japanese are excellent at responding to natural disasters, but this is on a whole different level. Laker taught English and lived in Japan for about four nonconsecutive years and has been back many times. Recently, he received an e-mail from a friend and former student in Tokyo, miles away from the disaster but still affected.
    “Their traffic was considerably disrupted. Planes, trains, car traffic. He found it was impossible to get a way to get home except by walking. It took him seven hours to go from his office to walk home,” Laker said. “The magnitude of the disaster can only become apparent over a long period of time,” he said…. – WTOV9, 3-14-11
  • Kerry Smith; James McClain: Students, Brown University professor safe in Japan: Kerry Smith, chair of the East Asian Studies Department and associate professor of history, said he believes a comparison will be drawn between national relief efforts today and the response to the 1995 Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, Japan. “The response appears to be much better organized,” Smith said, adding that aid appears to be moving at a “relatively quick pace.”
    James McClain, a professor of history who is on leave this academic year to teach at the Kyoto Consortium, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that CNN coverage of the earthquake and tsunami appears “needlessly alarming” thus far. But Japanese media coverage of the tsunami appears “dispassionately objective,” he wrote…. “The Japanese prime minister, a person not given to exaggeration, said that this is the worst disaster to strike Japan since World War II,” he wrote. “Indeed, to me, some of the scenes of the damaged cities bear an eerie resemblance to the Japanese cities destroyed by American fire-bombing in WWII.”
    Because of the damage inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami, several nuclear reactors located near Tokyo are in danger of leaking radiation. McClain wrote that the Japanese rely on these power sources for one-third of their electrical energy, and these reactors are mostly concentrated in areas at risk for earthquakes.
    “The Japanese themselves have long debated the wisdom of following such an energy policy,” he wrote, adding that “many — remembering that the Japanese are the only persons who have experienced an atomic bombing — have been deeply apprehensive about the accidental release of radioactivity.” – Brown Daily Herald,
  • History proves Japan can rebound: “They have lived through such big disasters in the past,” University of Regina International Studies professor Nilgun Onder said. It was the same kind of scene in 1945, after two atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
    History professor Philip Charrier makes his living studying Japan, and believes the country will once again be able to find its tracking. “Certainly by 1950, the country was advancing quickly,” Charrier explained. “Economic performance was already quite impressive.”
    Japan is no stranger to devastation. The country has seen its fair share of earthquakes over the decades. Yet, according to Charrier, the people will still approach this disaster with a positive attitude.
    “The people are trained and conditioned to deal with (disasters)” Charrier said…. – Global TV BC, 3-14-11
  • History Lesson: Massive Earthquake in Pacific Northwest Triggered Japan Tsunami in 1700: About 300 years before the current earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, another wave of water swept the Island nation, wreaking havoc and laying waste to entire coastal villages. That tsunami was caused by a massive quake–estimated to have been a magnitude 9.0–that rocked the entire Pacific coast from British Columbia to northern California. According to a U.S. Geological Survey expert and a former University of Washington scientist, the great tremor of 1700 and ensuing “orphan tsunami” could happen again, and Americans should learn from both it and the present situation in Japan.
    David Yamaguchi and Brian Atwater are the authors of “The Orphan Tsunami of 1700–Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America,” published in 2005 by University of Washington Press. The tome details a giant–yet, prior to their research, unconfirmed –earthquake that struck the Washington coast and Puget Sound area in the year 1700.
    RYamaguchi says the current chaos in Japan is keeping him glued to the TV. About a decade ago, when he was researching the book, he traveled to some of the same coastal cities that have been hit by the tsunami. Back then he saw evidence of previous tsunamis–things like “sand sheets,” mud and silt deposits left by the waves sweeping over normally dry land–but had a difficult time envisioning the same thing happening in the present.
    “It’s just as fascinating and scary to us as it is to you,” says Yamaguchi, formerly a professor of dendrology at UW. “All of this stuff we’ve been studying for years. Now, to see it unroll on video footage on TV it’s just amazing.”
    Back in the mid-1990s, Yamaguchi and Atwater, a USGS researcher, suspected that a massive quake had struck the Puget Sound at some point in the past three centuries. Although no scientific evidence existed at the time, they had several oral accounts from Native Americans, such as this one, from the diary of explorer James Swan:
    “The water receded and left Neah Bay dry for four days and became very warm. It then rose again without any swell or waves and submerged the whole ofthe cape and in fact the whole country except the mountains . . . many canoes came down in trees and were destroyed and many lives were lost.”
    They teamed up with a Japanese geologist, Satake Kenji, who combed meticulously kept Japanese records for description of tsunamis in that era. That yielded stories like this one, from the town of Miyako in 1700 — the same place where more than 1,000 bodies reportedly washed ashore today:
    “The waters drove villagers to high ground, damaged salt kilns and fishing shacks, drowned paddies and crops, ascended a cattle moat, entered a government storehouse, washed away more than a dozen buildings, and spread flames that consumed twenty more. Return flows contributed to a nautical accident that sank tons of rice and killed two sailors. Samurai magistrates issued rice to afflicted villagers and requested lumber for those left homeless.”
    The American scientists then analyzed tree rings from stumps submerged in shallow coastal waters in Washington, and used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint where and how the 1700 quake occurred. What the record shows is tremendous activity on the fault line between the Cascadia and Juan de Fuca tectonic plates…. – Seatlle Weekly, 3-14-11
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