Sanriku Earthquake +3 Days

This morning I got in the shower, shaved, and started to put together an overnight bag for work as I didn’t expect to be making it home. Then I got a mail from a nearby friend who told me that my line, the Keihin-tohoku, was only running between five stations. So I got a day off.


The TV showed lines of people all the way to the gates of Shinjuku Station. Another station had lines outside and down the block.


The night before I’d spent some time scrambling to figure out my power cut schedule, but it all turned out to be for naught. Power in my area was supposed to go down at 9:20 this morning, as the local PA system reminded us ten minutes in advance. Then it never came. It seems that consumers reduced loads sufficiently that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) managed to pull enough power together without blackouts. Then they didn’t tell anyone about it.


I headed out on foot with my camera. The weather was lovely, and it was a good chance to walk some distances I’d only previously done on a bike. Traffic was at its normal level, but there was an edge in the air, like everyone was tightly controlling their desire to hurry. At the fresh produce shop across the street, there were big signs about uncertain delivery dates posted all over the half-closed shutters, and a line of people was being allowed in an hour earlier than usual. The local 7-11 was rationing bottles of liquid to one per person, and the counters were devoid of oden and nikuman machines—which I presume to be a power-saving effort.


My local train station was shuttered with a lonely sign out front. The grocery store nearby actually had a full supply of meat and reasonably stocked shelves, but the lines trailed through the entire store. I even discovered a shop that specializes in rice thanks to the appropriately moderate line out the front. But there were only one or two people in some of the smaller produce stands in tucked-away corners, and I bought apples, sweet potatoes, and oranges at three different locations without coming close to a line. Other convenience stores weren’t rationing, either.


My regular grocery store had emptier shelves than yesterday, the lines were longer, and even the sugary cereal was now gone. I think we’re seeing consumption of convenience—the cheap and well-known shops are being emptied, but the expensive and hard-to-find locales are left alone. Nobody has to really scrounge yet. Hopefully they never will.


My local gas stand was closed. They’ve spitballed that only 1 stand in 5 is open now due to a lack of supply and people stocking up. The remaining stands are rationing.

There were only a handful of aftershocks today. Some channels tried to make them look serious with klaxons and bright-red DANGER maps, but they were all negligible.


The new danger is the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant. At 8:55 this morning they were still pumping seawater into the #3 reactor, though they had no idea if it was doing anything since they’d lost all readings from inside. At 11:01 it went up in a cloud of vapor like the #1, accompanied by a little plume of flame. The roof went straight up a few hundred metres into the air. The core was still intact, and the wind was seaward. But they were advising the 600 people left within 20 km to close their windows, turn of their ventilations systems, and stay inside. Six injuries were reported at the site.


Internal pressure was stable: 380 kPa at 11:13, and 360 kPa at 11:55. At 11:44 they measured an exposure rate of only 20 uSv/h at the entrance to the plant. At 11:35 they had detected 1 uSv/h at a range of 5 km—which I am told is roughly equivalent to what would be generated by 24 humans standing close together in the same place.


For those near the site, they recommended covering the mouth and nose with a wet towel, covering exposed skin, washing the face and hands, and avoiding food that has been sitting outside. If my understanding is correct, the reason for this is that most radioactivity at this stage will be carried by dust particles emitted from the site, and it won’t have a lot of penetrating power. So the key is to reduce contact with the dust.

Evacuation radius around Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant
Evacuation radius around Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant (From NHK-TV)
Radiation advice
Radiation advice (From NHK-TV)

At 6:20 p.m. they announced that they were having little success pumping sea water into the #2 reactor, but two hours later they announced a degree of success, though not before the fuel rods had been temporarily exposed. Water levels are reported to be rising appropriately in the #1 and #3 reactors. Then they announced that as of 11:00 the water had dropped and the fuels rods had been re-exposed in the #2. There was a news conference at 12:30 a.m. They seemed agitated.


At 9:37 p.m. they recorded 3130 uSv. At 10:15 it was back down to 431.7. At 10:31 it was down to 326.2. There was an earlier reading around 2000, but I’m afraid I missed it. They're evacuating people who had been allowed to stay in the nearby hospital.


I just hope the nuclear plant isn't going to act as a roadblock to future aid getting further north. We don’t need one disaster blocking another.


Throughout the day there was talk of when the planned power cuts would come in. In the end, they finally started at 5:00 p.m. in selected areas of Shizuoka, Ibaraki, Chiba and Yamanashi, but they only lasted about an hour and a half. Fuji City was dark down to the traffic lights. In Tokyo, many areas are cutting back. Ginza turned off all its neon, and the pachinko parlours in my area were completely closed.


The real power outage regime is promised tomorrow, though the final decision will come around 5:30 a.m. Unless the schedule changes again, I have a 3.5-hour dark zone at 7:20 p.m., which is an improvement—I was supposed to have that as well as the 9:20 a.m. outage. When I consider what everyone will do with three hours of darkness in the evening, I cannot not help but conclude that there will be a rush of earthquake babies in December.


News from the north came in all day. They had more amateur video, much of it terrifying. There was also news of 2000 bodies found on the shores of Miyagi, and the estimate of the dead went over 10,000. I think we’re starting to get closer to the real number.


Last night I got my first good news—one of my friends based south of Morioka contacted me. I found myself crying at the computer. He asked about another mutual friend in Ofunato, which is beside the horribly devastated Rikuzen-takata. We hadn’t heard from him except for an initial mail saying that he was heading to an evacuation centre immediately after the quake. He finally got back to us this afternoon, and I cried at my computer again. Looking at the situation in Rikuzen-takata and Kesen-numa, I had given him up for lost.


There’s a bit of positive news now here and there. They rescued a class of kindergartners, many of whom had been instructed to wear Santa hats for ease of identification.


For Tokyo, Facebook is the hero of the day. When I checked this morning, there was an official announcement about train lines and power outages for foreigners in Japan. I’ve never had an announcement from Facebook before. My Facebook friends are a key source of information, and we’ve been sharing new developments and discoveries back and forth.


One very cool feature of the daily news has been how they focuses the weather report first on the areas hit by the tsunami. It reminds us all of how they’re feeling. It’s 6 degrees in Ofunato tomorrow, and it's supposed to rain or snow. I hope they’re getting blankets.

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