Japan was somewhat frazzled today by a warning issued of a supposed 7.8 earthquake in the city of Nara. Mobile phones buzzed with emergency alerts, trains were stopped in Tokyo, and Yahoo Japan temporarily went down, apparently due to a deluge of traffic. Even shinkansen (bullet trains) were reportedly stopped on their tracks.
In the office here, people frantically checked their phones, and we turned on the radio, fearing the worst. Within minutes, we were all back at our computers as if nothing happened.
As it turns out, the earthquake didn’t register nearly that high on the Richter scale. A more realistic estimate of 2.9 was later announced
The Twittersphere responded accordingly.
“Meteorological Agency officially notifies that Nara alert was "misinformation" & incorrect,” tweeted @whsaito.
The result of all this chatter: “Japanese Twitter is about to collapse now,” said @russian_market, who later added, “Reports that system detected wrong earthquake alert . Now the whole Japan is calling each other.”
Another fact that added to the puzzlement surrounding news of the quake is that the area surrounding Nara, bordering Kyoto prefecture, is not typically associated with heavy seismic activity. Aside from the Great Hanshin earthquake that devastated Kobe in 1995, the Kansai area is one of the relatively calmer seismic zones on a very earthquake-prone chain of islands.
In a way, this response is to be expected. Amid news of TEPCO’s ongoing catastrophe in Fukushima – radiated water is now flowing directly into the Pacific – fears that another Big One could strike at any time are always lurking just on the edge of everyone’s mind.
Thankfully, this one was a false alarm.