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Japan tsunami: Nothing to do but run

Posted by Admin on March 16, 2011

Archive: Sendai, Japan (NASA, International Sp...

Image of Sendai by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110316/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_devastation

By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Todd Pitman, Associated Press 18 mins ago

SHIZUGAWA, Japan – Growing up in this small fishing town on Japan’s northeastern coast, 16-year-old Minami Sato never took the annual tsunami drills seriously.

She thought the town’s thick, two-story-high harbor walls would protect against any big wave. Besides, her home was perched on a hilltop more than a mile (about two kilometers) from the water’s edge. It was also just below a designated “tsunami refuge” — an elevated patch of grass that looked safely down across the town’s highest four-story buildings.

But the colossal wave that slammed into Shizugawa last week “was beyond imagination,” the high-school student said. “There was nothing we could do, but run.”

The devastating tsunami that followed Friday’s massive earthquake erased Shizugawa from the map, and raised questions about what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it. More than half the town’s 17,000 people are missing and scenes of ruin dot the towns and villages along Japan’s northeastern coast, devastation not seen here since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

On Wednesday, the official death toll from the tragedy was raised to 3,676 but it is expected climb above 10,000 as nearly 8,000 people are missing. Some 434,000 people were made homeless and are living in shelters.

With each passing day, more and more poignant stories of survivors and victims are emerging.

Immediately after the quake, Katsutaro Hamada, 79, fled to safety with his wife. But then he went back home to retrieve a photo album of his granddaughter, 14-year-old Saori, and grandson, 10-year-old Hikaru.

Just then the tsunami came and swept away his home. Rescuers found Hamada’s body, crushed by the first floor bathroom walls. He was holding the album to his chest, Kyodo news agency reported.

“He really loved the grandchildren. But it is stupid,” said his son, Hironobu Hamada. “He loved the grandchildren so dearly. He has no pictures of me!”

Shizugawa, 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Hamada’s home in Iwate province’s Ofunato city, had been preparing for just such a disaster since at least 1960, when the largest earthquake on record — a magnitude 9.5 — hit Chile and triggered a tsunami that swept the entire Pacific Ocean and hit Japan.

A Miyagi prefecture official said the harbor walls, which began to be constructed soon after the tsunami, were completed in 1963.

Every year on the anniversary of that destruction — May 22 — residents of Shizugawa practiced tsunami drills — running to designated refuges on higher ground scattered through town as sirens howled and making arrangements for emergency food and shelter.

The drills were voluntary, but most people took part, said 50-year-old housewife, Katsuko Takahashi, who was sitting in the darkness outside a school turned shelter in Shizugawa, shivering as snow fell.

“I can’t say we prepared enough, because half the population is still missing,” she said. “But you cannot prepare for a tsunami this big.”

When Sato first saw the colossal brown wave rushing toward Shizugawa on Friday afternoon, it looked small enough for the 20-feet-high (6-meter-high) walls along the harbor — hundreds of feet (meters) of thick concrete slabs — to stop it.

But as the tsunami slammed into the harbor edge, it was clear the walls, stretched over a half-mile (a kilometer), would be useless. Sato — watching from her hilltop home — saw the surging water easily engulf not only the walls, but crash over the top of four-story-high buildings in the distance.

Sato grabbed her 79-year-old grandmother and started running up a pathway behind her home to the tsunami refuge.

But there, she saw several dozen people who had gathered already on the move.

“Run!” screamed one. “The water is coming! It’s getting higher!” shouted another.

The wave fast approaching, Sato ran up the steps into a Shinto shrine, past a cemetery and kept going, finally coming to a halt out of breath beside a cell phone tower.

The surging sea swept over the refuge below them, picking up 16 cars that had been parked neatly in a row and cramming them chaotically together into a corner of the parking lot.

Below, the ocean had swallowed all of Shizugawa, rising above a four-story mini-mall and the town’s hospital, two of the few buildings still standing — but totally gutted — when the wave receded.

“I thought I was going to die,” Sato said Tuesday afternoon, as she gathered up two sweaters, two books and a pillow from her ruined house, whose missing front wall looked out over the town, where a line of army-green Japanese Self Defense Force jeeps rode through the destruction.

The harbor wall is now half missing. On one road that still exists in Shizugawa, evacuation routes can still be seen painted into the tarmac.

One shows a blue wave curled around a running human figure. A green arrow indicates a refuge is just a few hundred yards (meters) away — the same one now covered with debris beside Sato’s house.

Just around the corner, the road is gone, surrounded by an apocalyptic wasteland of knotted rubble that used to be Shizugawa.

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Scenes of devastation at heart of Japan disaster

Posted by Admin on March 12, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110312/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_devastation

By JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Jay Alabaster, Associated Press Sat Mar 12, 8:38 am ET

SENDAI, Japan – Miles from the ocean’s edge, weary, mud-spattered survivors wandered streets strewn with fallen trees, crumpled cars, even small airplanes. Relics of lives now destroyed were everywhere — half a piano, a textbook, a soiled red sleeping bag.

On Saturday, a day after a massive tsunami tore through Sendai, residents surveyed the devastation that has laid waste to whole sections of the northern port of 1 million people, 80 miles (128 kilometers) from the epicenter of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that set off one of the greatest disasters in Japan‘s history.

Rescue workers plied boats through murky waters around flooded structures, nosing their way through a sea of detritus, while smoke from at least one large fire billowed in the distance. Power and phone reception remained cut as the city continued to be jolted by powerful aftershocks.

A still unknown number of people perished. Police said they found 200 to 300 bodies washed up on nearby beaches, but authorities were still assessing the extent of the devastation in the city and along the nearby coast.

Rail operators lost contact with four trains running on coastal lines Friday and still had not found them by Saturday afternoon, Kyodo News agency reported. East Japan Railway Co. said it did not know how many people were aboard.

Overall, the country’s official death toll stood at 574, although local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 50,000 troops would join rescue and recovery efforts, and rescuers still had not reached some of the hardest-hit areas by late Saturday, some 30 hours after the quake.

Hundreds of people lined up outside the few still-operating supermarkets in Sendai, stocking up on drinks and instant noodles, knowing it would be a long time before life returns to anything like normal. Some recalled how they cheated death as the massive waves swept some 6 miles (10 kilometers) inland.

A convenience store 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the shore was open for business, though there was no power and the floors were covered with a thick layer of grime.

“The flood came in from behind the store and swept around both sides,” said shop owner Wakio Fushima. “Cars were flowing right by.”

Many Sendai residents spent the night outdoors, or wandering debris-strewn streets, unable to return to homes damaged or destroyed by the quake or tsunami. Those who did find a place to rest for the night awoke to scenes of utter devastation.

The city’s Wakabayashi district, which runs directly up to the sea, was a swampy wasteland with murky, waist-high water. Most houses were completely flattened, as if a giant bulldozer had swept through.

Satako Yusawa, 69, said she has felt many earthquakes but never anything like what hit Friday afternoon.

“I was having tea at a friend’s house when the quake hit. We were desperately trying to hold the furniture up, but the shaking was so fierce that we just panicked,” she said.

She said her son had just borrowed a large amount of money to build a house, and the family moved in on Feb. 11. Luckily, he was out of town when the quake and tsunami hit, but on Saturday they couldn’t find the house, or even where it used to stand.

Yusawa broke into tears as she looked out over the devastation.

“This is life,” she said.

At an electronics story in the city, workers gave away batteries, flashlights and cell phone chargers. Several dozen people waited patiently outside.

From a distance, the store appeared to have survived the devastation intact. But a closer look revealed several smashed windows and slightly buckled walls.

Inside was chaos. The ceiling of the second floor had collapsed, and large TVs, air conditioners and other products lay smashed and strewn about the aisles.

The contents of the entire building were soaked by the automatic sprinklers that were triggered by the quake.

“Things were shaking so much we couldn’t stand up,” said Hiroyuki Kamada, who was working in the store when the initial quake hit. “After three or four minutes it lessened a bit and we dashed outside.”

The tsunami directly hit the city’s dock area and then barreled down a long approach road, carrying giant metal shipping containers about a mile (2 kilometers) inland and smashing buildings along the way.

Hundreds of cars and trucks were strewn throughout the area — on top of buildings, wedged into stairwells, standing on their noses or leaning against each other as if in prayer.

Most ships in port managed to escape to sea before the tsunami hit, but a large Korean ship was swept onto the dock.

Most buildings out of range of the tsunami appeared to have survived the quake without much damage, though some older wooden structures were toppled. Paved roads had buckled in some places.

Cell phone saleswoman Naomi Ishizawa, 24, was working when the quake hit in the mid afternoon. She said it took until nightfall to reach her house just outside Sendai and check on her parents, who were both OK. Their home was still standing, but the walls of a bedroom and bathroom had collapsed and debris was strewn throughout.

And yet, she was lucky. The tsunami’s inland march stopped just short of her residence; other houses in her neighborhood were totally destroyed.

Like many people throughout Japan’s northeast, she had not heard from others in her family and was worried.

“My uncle and his family live in an area near the shore where there were a lot of deaths,” Ishizawa said. “We can’t reach them.”

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Tsunami, volcano eruption strike Indonesia

Posted by Admin on October 26, 2010

PADANG, Indonesia – Rescuers battled rough seas Tuesday to reach remote Indonesian islands pounded by a 10-foot tsunami that swept away homes, killing at least 113 people. Scores more were missing and information was only beginning to trickle in from the sparsely populated surfing destination, so casualties were expected to rise.

The fault that ruptured Monday on Sumatra island’s coast also caused the 2004 quake and monster Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Though hundreds of disaster officials were unable to get to many of the villages on the Mentawai islands — reachable only by a 12-hour boat ride — they were preparing for the worst.

“We have 200 body bags on the way, just in case,” said Mujiharto, who heads the Health Ministry’s crisis center, shortly before announcing a five-fold increase in the death toll.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire — a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

The country’s most volatile volcano, Mount Merapi, 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the east, started to erupt at dusk Tuesday as scientists warned that pressure building beneath its lava dome could trigger one of the most powerful blasts in years.

The 7.7-magnitude quake that struck late Monday just 13 miles (20 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor was followed by at least 14 aftershocks, the largest measuring 6.2, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Many panicked residents fled to high ground and were too afraid to return home.

That could account in part for the more than 500 people still missing, said Hendri Dori, a local parliamentarian who was overseeing a fact-finding missing. “We’re trying to stay hopeful,” he said.

Hundreds of wooden and bamboo homes were washed away on the island of Pagai, with water flooding crops and roads up to 600 yards (meters) inland. In Muntei Baru, a village on Silabu island, 80 percent of the houses were badly damaged.

Those and other islets hit were part of the Mentawai island chain, a popular and laid-back surfing spot 175 miles (280 kilometers) from Sumatra.

A group of Australians said they were hanging out on the back deck of their chartered surfing vessel, anchored in a bay, when the temblor hit just before 10 p.m. It generated a wave that caused them to smash into a neighboring boat, and before they knew it, a fire was ripping through their cabin.

“We threw whatever we could that floated — surfboards, fenders — then we jumped into the water,” Rick Hallet told Australia’s Nine Network. “Fortunately, most of us had something to hold on to … and we just washed in the wetlands, and scrambled up the highest trees that we could possibly find and sat up there for an hour and a half.”

Ade Edward, a disaster management agency official, said crews from several ships were still unaccounted for in the Indian Ocean.

The quake also jolted towns along Sumatra’s western coast — including Padang, which last year was hit by a deadly 7.6-magnitude tremor that killed more than 700. Mosques blared tsunami warnings over their loudspeakers.

“Everyone was running out of their houses,” said Sofyan Alawi, adding that the roads leading to surrounding hills were quickly jammed with thousands of cars and motorcycles.

“We kept looking back to see if a wave was coming,” said 28-year-old resident Ade Syahputra.

___

Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini and Irwan Firdaus contributed to this report.

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Indonesian volcano erupts, 20 injured by hot ash

Posted by Admin on October 26, 2010

A villager watches Mount Merapi in Kaliadem, ...

By SLAMET RIYADI, Associated Press – 35 mins ago

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia – Indonesia’s most volatile volcano erupted Tuesday after scientists warned that pressure building beneath its dome could trigger the most powerful explosion in years. A 2-month-old baby reportedly died as panicked villagers fled the area.

Smoke poured out of Mount Merapi, obscuring its cone, according to footage from the private station, MetroTV. Up to 20 people were injured by the hot ash spewing from volcano, said an AP reporter who saw them being taken away for treatment. One burn victim’s skin was coated in the gray powder, which also blanketed vehicles in the area.

Some 11,400 villagers who live on the 9,737-foot (2,968-meter-) high mountain were urged to evacuate, but only those within four miles (seven kilometers) of the crater were forced by authorities to do so. Most of those who fled were the elderly and children. Some adults said they decided to stay to tend to homes and farms on the fertile slopes.

There are fears that the current activity could foreshadow a much more destructive explosion in the coming weeks or months, though it is possible, too, that the volcano will settle back down after a slow, long period of letting off steam.

As they contended with the volcano, Indonesian officials were also trying to assess the impact of Monday’s 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from Merapi. The temblor caused a tsunami that left hundreds dead or missing on a string of remote islands.

MetroTV reported that the baby died when a mother ran in panic after the eruption started. Its report cited a local doctor and showed the mother weeping as the baby was covered with a white blanket at a hospital. The report did not make clear if it was a boy or girl.

Subandriyo, the chief vulcanologist in the area, said the eruption started just before dusk Tuesday. The volcano had rumbled and groaned for hours.

“There was a thunderous rumble that went on for ages, maybe 15 minutes,” said Sukamto, a farmer who by nightfall had yet to abandon his home on the slopes. “Then huge plumes of hot ash started shooting up into the air.”

Scientists have warned the pressure building beneath the dome could presage one of the biggest eruptions in years at Merapi, literally Mountain of Fire, which lies on the main island of Java, some 310 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of the capital Jakarta.

The alert level for Merapi has been raised to its highest level.

“The energy is building up. … We hope it will release slowly,” government volcanologist Surono told reporters. “Otherwise, we’re looking at a potentially huge eruption, bigger than anything we’ve seen in years.”

In 2006, an avalanche of blistering gases androck fragments raced down the volcano and killed two people. A similar eruption in 1994 killed 60 people, and 1,300 people died in a 1930 blast.

This vast archipelago is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire — a series of faultlines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

There are more than 129 active volcanos to watch in Indonesia, which is spread across 17,500 islands.

___

Associated Press writer Irwan Firdaus contributed to this report from Jakarta.

 

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