Well, no blogging for 11 months and then two in three days, what is the world coming to? Well, that is what a disaster does. And the previous blog posting about Kumamoto marvelled at the power of the quake and yet the relatively small number of casualties.
Well, within 28 hours of the initial quake there followed what now appears to have been the main quake, much larger and much more destructive, and the result has been that at least 42 people have died overall in both quakes, with nine due to the initial event late on Thursday 14th April night. The main quake at approximately 1:30am on 16th April measured magnitude7.3, which although it registered 6-Plus on the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale of 1-7, compared to the 7 which hit Mashiki Town on 14th April, had far more energy and spread that power across a broader area than the earlier quake. “The magnitude-7.3 earthquake in the early morning of April 16 had about 16 times the energy of the (magnitude-6.5) earthquake that occurred on the night of April 14, and it affected a wide area with strong tremors," says professor of seismology Naoshi Hirata, head of the Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo. “For an earthquake caused by an inland fault line it was quite large. Such large earthquakes influence the areas around them, so the Oita earthquake may have been triggered by (the April 16 main shock).”
Kumamoto, south-west of Japan, was hit by a magnitude 6.4 or 6.5 earthquake at 21:26 on Thursday 14th April, and another of approximately the same power at 00:03 on 15th April, then the magnitude-7.3 earthquake hit at 01:30 on 16th April. However, from the first quake on 14th April until midnight on 17th April, NHK has been reporting the occurrence of over 500 earthquakes, many of them of substantial power, and this has proven to be the greatest and fastest proliferation of quakes in Japan’s active history of earthquake monitoring. The major event on 16th April proved to be significantly greater than the Hanshin earthquake which destroyed large parts of Kobe and the surrounding area, and claimed an estimated 6,400 lives (although almost a thousand remain officially listed as ‘missing’ due the failure to recover bodies, a similar fate set to befall almost 2,000 victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake). Not only was the quake massive in its effects, prompting buildings and bridges to collapse, roads to split and sink, and hill sides to give way in greatly destructive mudslides, but the frequency of subsequent quakes spread the damage and the disquiet to other areas. Oita Prefecture to the east of Kumamoto has been hit by multiple quakes, of less power than the main event but still hazardous, and with widespread disruption to transport, industry, services, and citizens’ confidence in their own safety.
Most car companies have large numbers of small part suppliers from Kyushu and the transport and production disruptions have resulted in Toyota, Honda and others suspending production throughout Japan, as they have adopted the lean production standard of ‘just in time production’, whereby parts are delivered to match production, rather than through massive stock retention. Air services have been suspended for many hours as Kumamoto Airport terminal building suffered damage in the main quake to its roof, making it dangerous for passengers, to the extent that Prime Minister Abe cancelled his planned visit, also in recognition that the scale of the disaster had massively expanded within two days. Rail services are badly disrupted by rail, station, and bridge damage, and the Kyushu Shinkansen has suffered major damage to supports of the main track, making recovery of the derailed out of service train far more difficult. Even road transport has been badly affected by bridge collapse and the range of subsidence of road surfaces, embankments and other areas.
In Mashiki town many old houses were damaged and collapsed, which appears to have claimed the lives of eight of the nine fatal victims of the initial quake. However, the far greater power of the main quake, combined with the weakening of structures by multiple previous quakes of great power resulted in many much newer buildings being critically damaged. Those in the news that have received the most coverage have been apartment buildings in which the first (ground) floors collapsed and the buildings concertinaed, giving little chance to those trapped in downstairs flats. Most prominent have been six student dormitory buildings of Tokai University, which established its Agriculture Studies Faculty in Kumamoto in 1973, and in which it appears that three students have lost their lives, although their remain some unaccounted for. However, in terms of shock value for those residents of Japan who thought themselves well prepared for such natural disasters, the images of Uto City Hall in Kumamoto Prefecture are sobering in the extreme. City halls are the command and control centres for disaster relief operations, where police, fire, and JSDF personnel congregate to coordinate efforts, and where citizens report to for help or to track down the missing or injured. City Hall in your home town isn’t just an administration centre it is also a focal point for emergencies. In Uto, a small town of about the same size as Mashiki, the four storey concrete Uto City Hall building has been left a limp, empty shell. It looks as though it has been the subject of a terrorist attack or aerial bombing, with the upper floors hanging out from the main building frame, and the ground floor under strain from an evidently failed structure. City halls are built to withstand Japan’s substantial and frequent quakes, and this is a lesson for those communities elsewhere in Japan.
Uto City Hall in previous days
After the 01:30 16 April Quake
It is estimated that over 180,000 people are now unable to return home, mainly due to damage to their buildings, and while many have sought shelter in the designated evacuation buildings, mainly schools and other public buildings, these are often overcrowded with the result that many are sleeping outside or in their cars with all the attendant health problems these pose. The government has announced a mobilisation of 25,000 JSDF personnel and troops are already working hard at rescue and relief tasks, while also aiding transport and evacuation. The US government has offered assistance, and it seems likely he Japanese government will draw up a list of assistance they would like to request from US Forces Japan, mainly for logistical support with heavy sea and air lift, areas in which the JSDF remain relatively poorly equipped for such capable and well-resourced armed forces.
This national crisis had the feel of a local affair, but gradually it is assuming the mantle of the truly national event, something that will be confirmed by the arrival of two august bodies of men and women: the US armed forces, and volunteers from all over Japan. In other disasters, these are the two bodies that confirm that local events have become of national and international concern. No doubt within days they will be prominent.
One clarification from the previous blog posting: ‘robust helmet man’ shrilly telling us not to panic was not wearing a helmet bearing the letters KKK, but upon closer inspection it read KKT, indicating this as the local public broadcaster for Kumamoto Prefecture. Kumamoto Council Telly would be a decent translation. Helmet man is not and never was a racist, and is a fine local public servant, and that is one silver lining in this dark cloud of a crisis. And on that note, the blog must be to bed.