It’s been 10 years since the fourth largest earthquake has ever been recorded, and there is still some long term damage that hasn’t been fixed. And it may never be. The disasters that cascaded after the initial earthquake were almost as bad, if not worse than the initial earthquake.
The main disaster, of course, was the tsunami. The tsunami was so powerful that the effects were felt in Japan's northern islands. The city of Tohoku, which was impacted the hardest. Tsunamis were also recorded in Alaska and Chile. Chile was hit particularly hard, a fact that a lot of people don’t know. The tsunamis resulted in the major destruction of these regions and thousands of lives were lost. Warnings were carried out in all the regions of Japan. But in some of the smaller coastal towns, especially the islands in northern Japan, the evacuation was futile. Once the carnage stopped, it was weeks and in some cases months before some of these communities regained power and safe drinking water. The aftermath was almost as bad as the disaster itself.
The trickle down damage from the earthquake and the tsunami shut down 15 ports in the Japanese disaster zone. The Fujinuma irrigation dam in Sukagawa ruptured, washing multiple homes away and affecting drinking water for weeks. 4.4 million households were also left without power in northeastern Japan. Cosmo Oil Company’s oil refinery was also set ablaze in the natural disaster. It took ten days to put the blaze out and many people were injured doing so. The Tohoku Expressway in Northern Japan was also damaged and was closed for almost 2 weeks after the earthquake.
The most devastating disaster that people forget about, that occurred immediately following the earthquake, was the Onagawa nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima. This was the closest power plant to the epicentre of the quake, and it was designed to withstand a disaster of this magnitude.The plant's three reactors automatically shut down without damage and all safety systems functioned as designed. The plant's 14-metre-high (46 ft) seawall successfully withstood the tsunami. Further analysis indicated that the reactors had suffered meltdowns and were continuing to leak coolant water. Japan officially had a nuclear disaster on top of the earthquake and the tsunami. The nuclear disaster was labeled not as bad as the one in Chernobyl, but worse than the Three Mile Island accident. Regardless, no region would want that label under any circumstance. The meltdown of the power plant in Japan is still affecting our planet until this very day.
Ten years later we are looking at how communities, people and ecosystems have bounced back from this global disaster. The first big disaster that is evident is the nuclear meltdown. Because the cooling systems in the reactors failed, there was contaminated water pumped into the ocean. Clean up efforts are still in effect and the surrounding area will be contaminated for at least thirty years. The currents in the ocean carried a lot of this contaminated water all throughout the Pacific Ocean. This has affected marine life in the Pacific Ocean. Tumours have been found in salmon all along the coast of northeast Japan, as well as in far away places such as the coast of British Columbia. The amount of nuclear waste that was dumped into the ocean as a result of the meltdown is astronomical. Not only are we still seeing effects from the meltdown on marine life, but it's hard to estimate just how severe the long term effects will be. We have to be aware of any marine life that is pulled out of the Pacific Ocean for many years to come. We are clearly feeling the effects of the earthquake related meltdown to this very day, and it’s really uncertain just how much longer we will be feeling it on our ecosystem.
How did the locals bounce back from this horrendous disaster? Thank God that the Japanese people are so resilient. (We forget that the Americans dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. It ended the Second World War, so this wasn’t Japan’s first encounter with a nuclear disaster. Typhoons are also common in Japan so the Japanese are seasoned in dealing with disasters). Not only did the Japanese citizens help each other after the quake, but the Japanese government has systems in place to mitigate disaster. The nation’s crisis management system includes the most advanced earthquake and tsunami warning in the world. So to say that the Japanese bounced back is an understatement. Japan has very few original historical buildings and sites because most of them were destroyed during WW2 or during natural disasters. The Japanese have rebuilt at a fast pace and made structures more efficient and durable. Some of the smaller Japanese islands didn’t bounce back as fast, but they had help from their countrymen and consequently have been mostly restored.
The people may have bounced back, but this earthquake is far from being behind us and hardly only material for history books. I think it’s safe to say that the Japanese have rebuilt the structures, but they definitely have not forgotten. We are also clearly still seeing detrimental effects on our ecosystem from the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. There are still Japanese items that continue to wash up from the tsunami on the coast of Vancouver island. The effects will be around for at least another 30 years. And this happened to a country that was well versed in natural disasters and that was incredibly prepared! I just hope that our country is as prepared, if a disaster of this magnitude should ever hit us. Just last week we had a tsunami warning because of an earthquake off the coast of New Zealand. We don’t know when, where or how the next big one will hit. But all we can do is: to do our best personally and to be prepared for when it does hit.