Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami

A few thoughts about today’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The video coming out of there is horrific. There will surely be many thousands of casualties.

It has been great to see the immediate reaction of help, efforts both large and small: from the U.S. military sending ships with hospital and disaster relief supplies to the FaxZero company waiving fees for faxes to Japan to help family and friends can communicate with loved ones there.

I have a good friend who lives there, and he’s fine; nice that he had power and Internet connection to reply to my email very quickly.

Bad Reporting

But I had to roll my eyes about some of the news coverage. Even after the 2004 quake and tsunami in Indonesia, so many of the news people just don’t have their tsunami facts clear.

Before I worked for NASA I was a freelance science writer, and it happens that back in 1986, I wrote an article which explains how tsunamis work, and why it’s so difficult to predict what distant shores will be hit (and how hard). By noon today the article, which is on my rarely updated personal web site, had more than 10,000 page views, so it’s clear to me people are searching for information and finding that article.

Trivia: that article happened to be published in Westways magazine the day before I interviewed at JPL. I was able to take a copy of the magazine to the interview to show a sample of my “recent work,” and the guy interviewing me replied, “Yeah, I saw that yesterday — I subscribe.” I don’t know if that cemented me getting the job, but it sure didn’t hurt!

California Knows Tsunamis

I used to live on California’s North Coast. In 1964, Crescent City was wiped out by a tsunami after an earthquake in Alaska; 18 people were killed. Today, knowing that a tsunami was inbound, many obliviots rushed to the beach to watch it come in. Four were swept out to sea; at least one of them is dead.

Evacuations are done for a reason, and Social Darwinism will make examples out of some of the people who refuse to think.

Here’s a video of waves hitting the coast by Crescent City, taken by a guy who knew enough to be on higher ground (but he still almost got wet!) It’s amazing how fast the water came up.

Think about being on a coastline that doesn’t have hills: in one area of Japan, waves reached 10km inland — about six miles!

Wikipedia already has an extensive article on the disaster, which puts the mass of information about this particular event into good perspective.

There’s an interesting NASA-generated map of the quake and its pre/aftershock locations and magnitudes. (Link removed: no longer online)

Astounding video of the tsunami (with English narration) by Sky News. (Link removed: no longer online)

Surely there will be many more amazing links to come. You’ll find them in my Twitter stream, which is auto-copied to my Facebook page.

Last, True isn’t hugely popular in Japan — just a few dozen addresses ending in “.jp” are subscribed, though I know plenty more there surely are using .com addresses. But today, we’re all partly Japanese. ご幸運を祈ります。 (Gokouun o inorimasu — good luck).

Aid to Japan

In the newsletter sent out a week later, I offered to send $20 toward earthquake/tsunami relief for every new $24 subscription upgrade. I expected to be able to send about $2,000 to the effort.

Well, This is True readers came through: by the time the deal ended, there were 315 new upgrades, plus several readers added to the pot to bring the total up to $6,540! Thank you to all the readers who helped!

–Randy Cassingham

14 Comments on “Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami

  1. People rushing to the beach to watch a tsunami come in gives even obliviots a bad name. There must be a stronger name for someone that stupid.

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  2. Thanks indeed.

    Work stopped suddenly yesterday afternoon as bits of the roof started falling down, and I was on the South West side of Tokyo.

    A five hour ride home followed, but at least I was lucky enough to have access to a car. Many are still stuck in central Tokyo.

    My wife has relatives near ground zero, no contact yet.

    (At least they are not on the coast.)

    Glad to hear you’re OK, Tony, and best to your relatives in the disaster area. -rc

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  3. I appreciate the way you so eloquently stated “but today, we’re all partly Japanese”. That is exactly how I have felt all day, but didn’t know quite how to say it. I thank you for putting it into words for all of us to read. I went through a 6.2 and cried like a little baby the whole time it was happening. I can’t imagine an earthquake being nearly 3,000 times stronger, and how the suvivors are coping with the massive devastation and loss of lives. Prayers to all the people who have been and will be affected by this quake and its aftermath. Even if you don’t believe in prayer, that’s okay. A nice caring thought will do. (Who do you really think you’re talking to inside your head?)

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  4. Let us pray that no one sends cocktail dresses to Japan as “relief donations” like some idiots did during the Indonesian crisis.

    There have already been reports of scams — spammers and other thieves getting “donations” for Japan that they keep. ONLY give to legitimate charities, such as the Red Cross or organizations you know are legit. -rc

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  5. Thank you for your comments. I hope and pray that they will be able to get all of the basic necessities to people as fast as possible; the original disaster is awful, but sometimes the followup is much worse. May all of the survivors get food, water, and safe shelter, and may any still trapped in rubble or ruins (or other sticky spots) be found and rescued.

    I watched a news report on this tonight, and my cousin and I both looked at each other with bewilderment when they reported on the people who went down to the beach to watch the tsunami. Seriously?? As you pointed out, evacuations happen for a reason, and we would be wise to heed them. There have to have been safe locations from which to view the tsunami.

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  6. I saw live broadcast of the coastline and right on camera you could see people walking on the beach looking out at the ocean. What more of a hint could you make NOT to walk on the beach with a giant wave coming? I don’t wish anyone harm, but damn!

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  7. My immediate thoughts were concern for those caught in the middle of it. Then for those who know of a close one(s) caught in the middle of it. Then for those who weren’t caught in the middle of it, but close enough to feel the frustration trying to help those who were. If all that weren’t bad enough, there’s the additional threat of nuclear meltdown.

    But what causes me the most concern for all those poor people is, after it’s all died down, and survivors are trying to get on with their lives, the onslaught of lawyers looking to sue somebody, anybody, everybody for failing to prevent this catastrophic natural disaster from occurring in the first place. All in the name of Altruism, of course.

    I don’t think Japan has a “Sue ‘Em!” culture, but I guess we’ll see in the next year or so. -rc

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  8. I suspect you mean “Darwinism” rather than “Social Darwinism”. While “Social Darwinism” has several distinct meanings, none of them seems to match your intent.

    You’re looking at classic definitions. Online, “Social Darwinism” is “A widely circulated belief that human evolution will sort itself through the actions or inactions of stupid individuals eliminating themselves from the gene pool…. See Darwin Awards.” (Urban Dictionary) — which I made quite clear in the conclusion of the sentence. -rc

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  9. I can’t believe that you actually sent money to those little yellow animals.They can live and fight on a sock of rice for a week, and your worried about feeding them!

    I’d rather have one of those “little yellow animals” in my home than a close-minded, half-educated bigot. -rc

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  10. “Owen , Vermont” should know there’s another name for “those little yellow animals”. Human — a title which, if he works hard, he might one day rise to.

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  11. Having frown up in Ariz, I have always had a hard time with the Japanese. All that Dec 7, 1941 stuff. So maybe we should not be too too hard on Owen for his admittedly slightly cruel, and not so thoughtful comment. Not that his comment is justified in light of recent events, but, none of us are perfect: we all have irreconcilable prejudices, somewhere. Maybe recent events have made Owen reconsider his words. Perhaps he is trying to mellow out. (One hopes. Although Randy may question the softness of my heart. He may even be justified wondering about the softness of my thinking…)

    But with the shellacking from Mother Nature, and all the bad luck they have had lately… How can one not feel sorry, forgive, and wish them some good luck, and soon! These poor people just cannot seem to catch a break, lately. Hang on, Japan! This too, you will overcome.

    I must say that I gained considerable admiration for the perseverance, work ethic, cleverness, selflessness, (and etc.) of the average Japanese person, though.

    I’m still NOT impressed with the TEPCO brass. These old guys don’t seem to be coping very well. To me, there is a “Watergate” smell to this. There are some very highly placed people who truly appear NOT to have done things right, and not just 40 some years ago (when the plant was designed and built), but for the past 40 years, right up to today. Just can’t help thinking, as facts are revealed: “What were they thinking when they decided that?”

    And Randy: Take a bow. Your actions, in this (and other matters) have been exemplary.

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  12. Yeah, I saw that comment and was stunned. But Randy handled it well. Not sure where such a comment came from, though. My dad came in on the tail end of WWII and he’s in his mid-80’s. While I’m sure anti-Japanese sentiment was strong back then, he doesn’t hold it today. I remember as a kid, myself, WWII wasn’t that long ago, and playing “War”, we still used the term Japs (or Krauts, if we were playing the European version) back in the 1950’s. But even then, we were still chastised by our parents for using such pejorative terms.

    Still, I have to admit, during Vietnam we did use such terms as gook, slope, and others to reference any Asian person. But in 35 years, even that prejudice has faded away.

    I only have one prejudice I’ve never been able to shake, and that’s for Arabs. Not because of 9/11 but going back decades before that. Even so, it’s still an unreasonable prejudice that I can’t justify. So I’m blown away when somebody makes such a bold, impassioned public statement about something that dates back 40, if not 65 years ago.
    People, even in large groups, commit atrocities, not races of people.

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  13. I agree with David in Bethesda and would add that it’s a bad idea to trust UrbanDictionary as a reference; I’d rate it lower than Wikipedia for reliability.

    We could get into a whole discussion of the evolution of the English language and whether there are enough people on the internet (mis?)using it this way that the definition should be changed, but I think this is closer to people using “irregardless” instead of “regardless” or using “infer” when they mean “imply”, than it is to the changing definition of “nice” over the years. And your definition/use of Social Darwinism doesn’t seem to be widespread based on a few quick searches I did; I didn’t find anything besides Urban Dictionary defining or using “Social Darwinism” this way. (A few quick searches isn’t exhaustive proof, I know, but I don’t want to devote too much of my time to this.) You seem to be the only source with ANY reputation to speak of supporting this definition.

    Apparently we travel in different circles. I hear the sense I used all the time. -rc

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