Japan: A Week in Crisis
At 14:46 JST, an earthquake measuring magnitude 9.0 strikes north-eastern Japan. The temblor -- one of the biggest in history -- causes a massive tsunami that sweeps into the Pacific coastline of northern Japan, leaving massive destruction in its wake. The earthquake and tsunami were so strong they moved Japan's main island 8 feet, and shifted the Earth on its axis.
In Tokyo, hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake, buildings and streets shake violently as office workers spill out onto the streets. A large fire erupts at the Cosmo oil refinery in nearby Ichihara city, Chiba Prefecture.
Many international flights from Tokyo are cancelled, while railway transportation from the city to nearby areas are disrupted and the iconic Shinkansen (bullet train) to the northeast is shut down. A number of nuclear reactors are reportedly shut down as powerful aftershocks continue to rock Sendai and the surrounding areas.
The death toll rises to 1,300, with thousands more still missing—including 10,000 people from the coastal town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, which was hit particularly hard by the tsunami. The National Police Agency reports more than 215,000 people are living in 1,350 temporary shelter across five prefectures. More than one million households have no water, while four million buildings are without power as temperatures plunge below zero degrees centigrade.
The government reveals a cooling problem due to a system failure caused by the earthquake at Tokyo Electrical Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on the northeast coast. Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano confirms an explosion and radiation leak at the facility. ‘We are looking into the cause and the situation and we'll make that public when we have further information,’ he says, adding that a 10 kilometre evacuation zone around the plant is being implemented.
The Japanese government doubles the number of troops from its Self-Defence Forces that have been dispatched for search and rescue operations to about 100,000. Prime Minister Naoto Kan appeals to Japanese to unite in overcoming what he says is the country's worst crisis since World War II. The death toll rises by hundreds more.
The tsunami warning issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency was the most serious on its warning scale, rating it a ‘major tsunami.’ While the actual height predicted varied, the highest estimated wave for Miyagi Prefecture was 10 metres (33 ft). Whole villages and towns have been wiped away by the giant wall of water, and it’s quickly clear that Japan faces a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
Reports suggest that as many as 10,000 people may have died in Miyagi Prefecture alone. Millions remain without power and drinking water and reports suggest many survivors are now struggling to find food. About 350,000 people have reportedly been left homeless and are staying in shelters. The National Police Agency says that more than 15,000 are still missing, with 2,475 deaths confirmed. Meanwhile, workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant continue to battle to avoid a meltdown as Naoto Kan admits: 'The possibility of further radioactive leakage is heightening...We are making every effort to prevent the leak from spreading. I know that people are very worried but I would like to ask you to act calmly.'
The official number of dead and missing surpasses 11,000. Japanese Emperor Akihito delivers a rare address to the nation, offering his prayers and expressing his deep concern over the escalating nuclear crisis. 'We don't know how many have died. It is my hope that many lives will be saved,’ he says.
The Bank of Japan, pumps trillions of yen into money markets to avert the country’s currency rise and to keep financial markets operating. It’s announced that the G-7 will hold meetings Friday to discuss Japan's nuclear plant crisis and the consequences for the already fragile global economy. Meanwhile, engineers working at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant work to restore power in an effort to get pumps working again so water can be used to cool overheating fuel rods. Military helicopters are used to dump water on the reactors as talk of a nuclear catastrophe begins to recede.