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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Update from Tom in Tokyo, Japan

Tom Ward, fellow bookclub member and Flophouse family dentist in Tokyo, sent this update from Japan earlier this month.  Tom is a long-time resident of Japan and he, of course, stayed put during the earthquake, the tsunami and the aftermath  He is a keen observor of life in his country of residence and I always enjoy his missives.  He has generously agreed to to allow me to post his latest update which I think gives a good view of the ampleur of the catastrophe and the challenges Japan faces as they rebuild. The picture Tom included at the end of his mail is quite extraordinary.


Several people have asked me for an update on what is going on with the recovery from the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

Despite the fact that I have been here continuously since the disaster, and have watched the news daily, it is amazing how much is not known, or is not said.

Sixteen thousand people died and an additional 5000 are missing and presumed dead.

Approximately 100,000 houses were destroyed, and another 400,000 damaged.

Most of the damage and deaths were caused by the tsunami rather than the earthquake itself.

Almost all of the hundreds of thousands of people who were initially in evacuation centers in schools and government buildings have now been able to find housing.

The government has constructed thousands of temporary houses for those who were unable to find housing, or move in with friends or relatives.

The clean-up operations by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, National Police Agency, Fire and Rescue Workers and Prefectural Government will continue for months.

One big question is what if anything should be built on the land where properties were destroyed by the tsunami.

But the most difficult problem to come to grips with is when the nuclear disaster.

Approximately 80,000 people were evacuated from the 30 kilometer exclusion zone around the affected reactors.

The reactors have still not been controlled, but probably will be cooled down early next year.

Although the amount of radiation being leaked now is not dangerous, the biggest problem is the radioactive material that has already settled out, for the most part in the exclusion zone.

Most troubling is radioactive cesium, which has a half life of 30 years.

It is now showing up in the meat of cows that have been fed contaminated hay.

Although no one in government is giving an official estimate, unofficially some are saying that people will not be allowed to live in the exclusion zone for decades.

The cost of the disaster has been estimated at 300 billion dollars. Of this 200 billion dollars was from the earthquake and tsunami, and the remaining 100 billion dollars from the nuclear disaster.

This makes it the most costly natural disaster in history, compared to 100 billion dollars for the Kobe earthquake, and about 80 billion dollars for Hurricane Katrina.


This ship was carried 500 meters inland from the port of Kesennuma by the tsunami. The plan is to dismantle it for scrap, as it is too big to carry back to the sea.

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