Wednesday 30 March 2011

Day Eighteen

Only one aftershock today, at about 8 pm. And the risk of a force 5 aftershock in the next few days down to 10%. Things are definitely improving.

Most of today was taken up with the internal audit for our ISO quality system. We'd considered postponing it because none of us were ready - we've a tendency to  leave preparations until the last minute anyway and examining systems was the last thing on our mind as we picked up the pieces  in the aftermath of the earthquake. But it's reassuring to get back to normal routines. And did I detect a new urgency? A new will to get things done and see results?

I talked on the phone to a member of staff in our Sendai office. We hadn't been able to get in touch with him for a week after the quake. He lives in Tagajo where a petroleum conbinaat caught fire the night of the earthquake. His house was about 2 km  from the tsunami. He spent the first night in an evacuation centre but is now back home although they don't have running water yet. He's cycling 20 km into work. The trains are due to resume on 5 April.

Two and a half weeks on and the full extent of the disaster is unfolding. So far 28,000 people are dead or reported missing. (The quake struck at 2:46 in the afternoon: if it had been at night the toll would have been even higher.) A primary school in Miyagi reconvened today (at a different site). Only 56 pupils left out of 108. In one town (Ofuna, Miyagi), which is at the head of a funnel-shaped bay, the tsunami was 23 metres high.  But it was the huge area affected that caused the paralysis of the first couple of days. Disaster systems were in place but they were based at the prefecture level which just couldn't cope.  Now there are 12,000 local government people in from all over Japan. And help from all over the world.

It's amazing to see these people. They look so organised, so strong. 20,000 US troops in 'Operation Tomodachi' operating from the ship the 'Ronald Reagan'; a plane chartered by the UK government to bring in 100 tons of water (that's a lot of bottles of water); and a whole hospital from Israel. The latter has 60 staff and can do blood tests and X-rays on the spot. This is the first time ever the government has granted foreign doctors licences to practise in Japan.

A programme tonight on NHK highlighted the role of Twitter and Facebook in searching for people in the first week when mobile phones were down. One guy got volunteers from all over Japan to record the tweets so he could set up a system for searching for people. Lots of people are helping in lots of different ways. We really do seem to be more interconnected.

My daughter Reiko sent me a goody bag through a friend who is visiting Tokyo. Tea, nice biscuits and a copy of The Independent with different news in another continent. For a short time I was away from here.

Back at the reactor electricity has been restored to all 6 units. All they need to do now is connect the pumps. Unfortunately the turbine rooms are flooded with highly radioactive water. There seems to be a vicious circle developing: the core in Unit 3 in particular needs hosing with water to prevent overheating but the tanks are getting full and they're running out of places to put the stuff. Meanwhile we are informed that levels of radiation are safe and no 'immediate' danger to health. Excuse me? I live here. Does this mean that there are risks in the long term? The information is confusing.

It's still cold.  No sign of spring. But then, unlike the gradual awakening of a European spring, spring always arrives very quickly here, all at once.
Good night, from a less shaky Koriyama

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