Frank Davis

Banging on about the Smoking Ban

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It's been one of those days when you turn on the box and find yourself caught up in an unfolding drama. I've been watching footage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster. It's astonishing that I've been able to see it within hours of it being shot.

Particularly arresting was the Al Jazeera video clip below (there's a similar clip in the Guardian), which shows the tsunami in Kamaishi city docks. There's an astonishing amount happening in it.

It was only after I'd watched it four or five times that I realised that the water level in the harbour was rising. At 26 seconds in, the water is several feet below a large Japanese sign beneath the windows on the white building. At 57 seconds in, it's reached the top of the window. So it's risen something like 15 feet in 30 seconds. And already at 26 seconds it looks like it's already 10 feet above ground level.

The same speed is apparent on the elevated roadway, which slopes down towards ground level in the distance. At 30 seconds you can see a couple of vehicles driving up this slope towards the camera. By 53 seconds, that slope has been covered in water. At 57 seconds, it's risen almost to the top of the slope, and white water is visble behind a couple of trucks stopped at the top.

What the hell was any traffic doing on this road anyway, driving along the waterfront? What the hell were the two cars doing driving through puddles of water at ground level underneath the elevated road, visible at 22 seconds? The tsunami took about an hour to get to the east coast of Japan after the earthquake. So why hadn't low-lying coast roads been closed, and traffic directed away from the waterfront?

Did those two drivers survive? There was already quite a lot of water on the road, and it was rising. Chances are that a few hundred yards further on they could have found the water was impassable. And there would have been no escape.

There's really quite a lot of traffic on these roads, it seems. And given the rate at which the water was rising, it seems entirely plausible that dozens of cars and trucks got caught, and never got out. There might have been 100 people drowning in their cars on the streets of Kamaishi by the 57 second mark.

And that doesn't count the pedestrians who were on the streets, or on the ground or first floors of buildings. There could easily have been another 100 of them. Or more. After all, if car and truck drivers were cheerfully driving along the front, and were even standing on the elevated road gawping at it all, then it's very likely that shoppers and shopkeepers and dock workers and boat crews didn't think there was much danger either.

The more I looked at this scene, the more likely it seemed to me that, just in the camera field of vision, a few hundred people could have lost their lives. In the whole of Kamaishi, which has a population of 40,000 or so, maybe 1000 people were caught.

And quite needlessly, it would seem. They had a whole hour to clear the lowest-lying ground. It's not as if they don't know about tsunamis. It's a Japanese word, after all.

But as I write, the death toll in the whole of Japan is set at just 1000. Since Kamaishi is just one town among hundreds all along the eastern Japanese seaboard, the actual death toll looks to me more likely to be more like 100,000.

And then, apart from all the lives lost, there's the damage. Hundreds of thousands of smashed cars and trucks and boats. Tens of thousands of houses swept away. Roads feet deep in mud and detritus. All the drains will be blocked. Most of the power will be out. A lot of people will be homeless. All damage done just by the tsunami, not the earthquake.

See also this for a terrifying 9 minute amateur video.

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NHK Worldwide News Service (a bit like BBC Worldwide only it's the Japanese network) was just on. (We get Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, German, UK and a few other overseas news channels broadcast locally here.)

However, about the quake. They said it is upgraded from 8.8 to 9.0. It was actually 3 earthquakes in quick succession, not just a single earthquake.

The first tsunami happened as quickly as 10 minutes in some areas, others 20 to 30 minutes before it hit. So for some, there may not have been enough time to escape.

Some things they showed, like the overturned trains, everyone had already escaped and gotten out of the area before the tsunami hit.

Motion video taken by aeronautical students at the airport from the top level, showed it coming in and being strong enough to drag every car and airplane along with it that were sitting on the ground. Other video showed it stripping the landscape clean of all buildings except for cement structures.

Apparently it must have been more than a single tsunami because the news hostess said something about rescue workers having to pull back and return "in between tsunamis", so it must have been several as they sloshed back and forth through the harbor.

The number one reactor that is currently having a partial meltdown is rated as a #4 out of 7 on an international danger scale for meltdowns. Someone showed a drawing and said that they are going to pump sea water into the containment vessel to lower the temperature below the boiling point, to at least keep it from creating steam pressure and fill the internal reactor to keep it from going dry and melting down more than it has so far.

There was a release of radioactivity into the air and it began showing up at local hospitals among maybe 15 patients so far. The government (propaganda maybe) said it was not a high enough reading to be dangerous. Yet they have extended the evacuation zone from 10km to 20km, mainly to the north of the reactor site, until things can be brought under control. About 220,000 evacuees is due to the reactors (more than just one is melting down).

There are many evacuation centers set up and one of the reasons so many people are unaccounted for is not necessarily, they are dead. It is because, as they explained, there is no cell phone and no regular phone communications and people can only go around by foot from shelter to shelter hoping to find where others in their families may be staying. So there is still hope in that regard, among many of the people staying in shelters tonight, that other family is still alive, but in other shelters scattered over large areas.

They said a lot more, but that is all I can remember. Them implying there was more than a single tsunami, that they kept happening in intervals, may be one reason why the question above, how did some people not get out in time, it may be they did, but then re-entered, thinking the first one was all there would be.

It was actually 3 earthquakes in quick succession, not just a single earthquake.

I saw a map somewhere showing the epicentres of a whole series of quakes, so I can well believe that there were several tsunamis.

Towns like Kamaishi and Minamisanriku are at the end of fjords or bays which have wide mouths. I believe that the effect of this is to concentrate all the water in a tsunami at the narrow end, resulting in a much higher wave.

Fortunately there ate not many big towns up in the northeast of the island (Honshu?).



Kazuaki Sakai, 70, said he watched from a hill as the tsunami waves roared into the town.

"First the sea pulled back so much that I could almost see the bottom. About 10 minutes after the quake the first (wave) hit and pulled back, and then the next wave hit about 10 meters high, completely black, making a whirlpool. Then that one pulled back and I could see the (sea) bottom again. That repeated for about 10 times in about a half-hour."

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