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Earthquake on Dec. 7 2012

Injuries were reported in Japan Friday after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake jolted the northeastern region that was devastated by  last years quake and tsunami.

The meteorological agency immediately issued a tsunami warning in the area around Ishinomaki, one of the cities that was flattened by 20 meter waves during the March 2011 disasters.

Tsunami warnings were sounded throughout the area urging people to flea to safety on higher ground. Several cities in Miyagi, including the region’s capital, Sendai, urged residents in coastal areas to evacuate. Sendai Airport was immediately shut down, and flights headed for the airport from domestic destinations were ordered not to land. The tsunami eventually reached Ayukawa at 18:02.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities had been detected at nuclear plants in the area, including Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, site of the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster last year, and Tohoku Electric Power Co’s Onagawa plant.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency reported that a tsunami measuring 1 meter in height had hit the Ayukawa area on Ishinomaki’s Ojika Peninsula. Further tsunami were anticipated, a spokesman said.

Television images showed violent shaking in Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures. In Tokyo the shaking continued for more than a minute. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda cancelled appointments and immediately returned to his offices, telling reporters he intended to “thoroughly” respond to the quake.

The M7.3 quake hit at at 17:22 local time some 237 km off the Pacific coast of the Ojika Peninsula at a depth of 10 km. The biggest tremors, estimated at around 5 in the Japanese scale of 7, could be felt as far away as Hachinohe in Aomori and Hitachi in Ibaraki.

Some high-speed bullet train services were suspended while minor injuries were reported in Ibaraki and Miyagi.

Japan is estimated to experience 10 percent of the world’s earthquakes and has been stricken by 2 major quakes in the past 17 years, killing a total of 25,000 people.

Time has frozen for grief-stricken Parents

Story published in Japan times one year anniversary edition on March 11, 2012.

Tohoku 1 Year On (Part 2)

Inside the Dead Zone

Former nuclear power plant worker Yuji Watanabe, 59, looks at a cow dying of thirst in a field in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 30 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Former nuclear power plant worker Yuji Watanabe, 59, looks at a cow dying of thirst in a field in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 30 March, 2011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

An assignment for the Times took me to the exclusion area. Started in Minami-Soma, visiting a doctor who  has stayed behind in the exclusion zone to look after the estimated 10,000 people who have chosen to stay behind, against the advice of the government. Some of the local people we talked to expressed anger at the lack of transparency by nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) and the government for leaving them behind. One man, who had returned to his clothing store to receive a delivery of elementary school uniforms that will most likely never be used, said he would like to throttle the Tepco president.

Staff and members of Japan's Self Defense Forces administer radiation checks at  a health center in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 30 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Staff and Self Defense Forces members administer radiation checks. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Another woman we got talking to was clearly distressed at the thought that this community that she has never left will likely become a ghost town. Later that same lady took us deep into the exclusion zone to introduce us to a resident — a former worker at the nuclear plant it transpired — and then on to see the dozens of cattle and soon that had been left to fend for themselves. We saw several dead cows and another one dying from dehydration. Several stray dogs roamed the deserted streets. Later we returned to Minami-Soma and undertook a radiation check, which we passed with flying colors. Richard Lloyd Parry writes about the experience in today’s Times here (pay site).

Dave McNeil also made a visit, getting about as close to the nuclear power plant as you can without jumping out of a helicopter. Story in the Irish Times here

More of the photos that I took on this trip to the “death zone” can be found at my Photoshelter archive here

Fukushima 50

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 is given a radiation check prior to boarding the Kaiwomaru in the dock at Onahama Port, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture on  23 March 20011.   Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 is given a radiation check prior to boarding the Kaiwo Maru at a dock in Fukushima Prefecture on 23 March 20011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Met members of the so-called Fukushima 50, the men charged with trying to prevent further complications at the TEPCO nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. They were all checked for radiation, work clothes and a few other belongings in tightly fastened plastic bags. Some of them looked absolutely exhausted.

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 boards the Kaiwomaru at a dock in Fukushima Prefecture on  23 March 20011.   Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 boards the Kaiwomaru at a dock in Fukushima Prefecture on 23 March 20011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

The ones who were willing to talk said it was pretty scary inside the plants where they worked, but were totally focused on completing their “mission.” Many had been in touch with family members, who, they admitted, were concerned about their safety. “I can’t wait to see them,” said one of the crew.

A few of them described the duties with which they were charged, such as laying cables. The ones I met are  currently staying on a 4-mast sailing boat, a training vessel that was bound for Honolulu before being requisitioned by the government on the day of the quake. Staff aboard the ship said the tone onboard was  low-key and occasionally somber. “They are very quiet” said the vessels chief commanding officer, adding that all those onboard had turned down offers of beer. However, while some declined to talk or be photographed others offered a smile and a v-sign as they boarded the boat. Some photos of the men who are valiantly battling at the nuclear power plant can be found here

“I’ll search until I find her”

Toshiaki Watanabe and his son Kenichi search through the rubble for his wife and Mother in Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Toshiaki Watanabe and his son Kenichi search through the rubble for his wife and Mother in Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

After a couple of days recuperating back in Tokyo, drove back up to Sendai yesterday and spent today going around the

A man looks out to see after spending the day looking for members of his family mega-tsunami that hit Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Oshika Peninsula. This has long been one of my favorite parts of Japan — I first came up here about 15 years ago to do a story about depopulation and will never forget an incredible journey to Kinkazan, an island that lies just off the southern tip of the peninsula a couple of years later. It all bares little resemblance now, of course, with entire villages having being swept away by the tsunamis that raged through these parts on March 11. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency this whole peninsula shifted a massive 5.3 meters to the southeast after the quake and tsunamis and sunk about 1.2 meters. Local residents that I met said that the water levels were still high, and that many of the smaller villages would likely never by habitable again.

Down on the waterfront at Yoriiso, a small fishing and marine product processing community, I came across a man and his son who were scouring the debris and skeletal processing buildings for relatives still missing. Toshiaki Watanabe told me they had been down there every day with other friends and relatives to search for his son Kenichi’s mother and grandmother — his wife and mother.

A photo of a kimono-clad woman floats next to a tire in the bay at Imeshi village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

So far they had come across four bodies, but they were not the ones of their loved ones. Though obviously grief stricken, Toshiaki seemed relatively calm, even chatty, but his son was obviously in some distress. He had been in Fukushima at the time, where he worked at a nuclear facility in Soma, while his father had been in Aomori, some way north. It seems that after the quake the Mother and grandmother had gone down to the water front to help other relatives. Then the tsunami struck. “We’ll search until I find her,” he said. It suddenly struck me that, along the length of the area struck by the tsunami — which must have actually hit more than 1,000 km of coastline, in various degrees of severity — there must be thousands of similar searches taking place: beach combers combing not just for mementos and trinkets of a past life, but for diamonds of their hearts.

A photo gallery of pictures taken across the devastated region can be found here. Comments warmly welcomed.

Japan Quake: what to believe?

a yacht that was driven into a building by the force of the tsunami that followed the March 11 magnitude 9 quake in Ishinomaki

Devastation in Ishinomaki following the mega tsunami on March 11

Members of Japan's Self Defense Forces lift onto a guerny the corpse of a man killed during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Ishinomaki.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Members of Japan's Self Defense Forces lift onto a guerny the corpse of a man killed during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Ishinomaki. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Day 4. Today moved on to Ishinomaki, about a 2-hr drive from Sendai. The situation is pretty dire there. First thing I saw was several people liberating a supermarket, one man walking off with a wheelchair full of mud-caked goods, an elderly man — the owner of the wheelchair perhaps? — treading gingerly behind. A government official interviewed later admitted that rumours of looting were rife. Later, I saw a woman in her 40s picking up a long-discarded onigiri rice ball, while her husband pulled a crate full of bits and pieces he or they had taken from a nearby store. One man at a shelter said people were being rationed to a quarter of a roll of bread per breakfast. That same shelter, a 4-story elementary school, was home to 35 young children.

That man also said he was completely in the dark about what was going on with the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. I told him that I knew how he felt, though the difference between the two of us was simple: he had access to little information while I had too much. And much of it seemed incongruous.

A woman looks through a list of the names of people who have been delivered to a makeshift morgue in Ishinomaki. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A woman looks through a list of the names of people who have been delivered to a makeshift morgue in Ishinomaki. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

I mean, just when the Japan government says that a reactor “has been stabilized”, the next thing I hear reported is that the situation is more grave than first feared. Meanwhile friends and family overseas have extended open invitations to their homes, based, in one case, on assessments of reports gleaned from various media sources overseas. Friends in Italy say they read an article in a British journal damning the Japanese  government’s lack of transparency. Then, I receive an email from a Kiwi friend regarding a telephone briefing from Sir John Beddington, the UK’s Chief Scientific adviser:

“Unequivocally, Tokyo will not be affected by the radiation fallout…” says Sir John.”The danger area is limited to within the 30 kilometer evacuation zone.”

Shortly after I read this, I hear that the BBC, the Guardian and CNN have ordered their reporters, snappers and other staff not just out of the quake-affected area, but out of Japan completely. When I bump into Janis Vougioukas from the German magazine Stern I find a normally calm man reduced to a trembling mess. “This doesn’t feel good” he says, before taking himself and his crew back to Tokyo.

According to a scientist friend of Independent correspondent David McNeil Japanese people in Tokyo who can read the foreign media are packing their bags and heading for the hills. I have no idea what to make of all of this so decide to carry on with work, for the time being at least.

The end of the day provides two experiences causing vastly differing emotional reactions. The first: we find a body among the shattered remnants of a coastal community. Then, drained and in desperate need of  food and sleep, we are accosted by a charming middle-aged woman in blue surgical gown. Nasa-san is the wife of a local gynecologist, and she leads through the most incredible site of devastation imaginable to reveal her husband’s relatively undamaged surgery. “Here, at 14.46 on March 11, just as the quake hit,” she say, “a baby boy was born.” What’s more, both survived the quake and subsequent tsunami.

Conflicted and confused I drive through sleety rain that turns into driving snow, toward Tokyo to be with my wife and 11-month-old daughter.

Japan Quake II

Photo shows shattered homes and other debris that was swept inland by the 10-meter high tsunami that followed the March 11 magnitude 9 quake in Minami Sanriku Town, Miyagi Prefecture

Photo shows shattered homes and other debris that was swept inland by the 10-meter high tsunami that followed the March 11 magnitude 9 quake in Minami Sanriku Town, Miyagi Prefecture. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Today visited a coastal town in Miyagi Prefecture called Minami Sanriku that was flattened by the tsunami that followed Friday(s mag 9 quake. It was a totally horrific sight. Some 10,000 people of the 17,000 who live in the town are dead or missing, according to an official there. Met survivors who were taking refuge in a shelter on higher ground who said the  wave was 10 meters high. More images here

Japan earthquake and nuclear plant explosion

A woman weeps as she listens to the latest news on a transistor radio about the nuclear power plant explosion in Iwaki City

A woman weeps as she listens to the latest news on a transistor radio about the nuclear power plant explosion in Iwaki City

Left home this morning very early heading for Sendai, the city most affected by yesterday’s M8.8 quake. The going was slow — it took the best part of 4 hours just to get out of Tokyo. Then bluffed way onto the expressway, though officially closed. On the way I managed to get hold of a long-time Japanese friend in Fukushima and just as I called, Yosh told me there had just been an explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Despite his objections, Sendai was ditched in favor of how near we could get to the plant. The roads were badly damaged and the area almost deserted but eventually made it to Iwaki, about  30 km from the plant. I came to Iwaki many times when I lived in Aizu — it wasn’t so far from where I lived — and never remember seeing it so desolate as this. Eventually found a refuge shelter filled with about 300 distraught refugees. Many had been taken there from communities close to the plant. The government had decided to evacuate anyone living within a 20 km radius of the explosion. Eventually found refuge in another ad hoc shelter, from where I am now sending this blog. The area may be deserted, and homes wrecked by yesterday’s tsunami, but we can still get online … More photos here

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