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Japan suffers major earthquake
July 16, 2007 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Strong earthquake hits Japan, hundreds of homes have been destroyed, bridges have been leveled, tsunamis are forming, and most frightening, the nuclear power plant appears to be leaking radioactive water. The quake registered as a 6.8 on the Richter scale. I hope that our Japanese Mefites are safe and sound and will let us know if there is anything we can do to help.
posted by dejah420 (52 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Developing: Japan Meteorological Agency reports another quake off Japan's west coast.
posted by ericb at 7:46 AM on July 16, 2007


Yeah we just had another one all along the coast.

We are OK here in Kanagawa. But we are expecting a few more quakes during the night even here.
posted by gomichild at 7:49 AM on July 16, 2007


I was in Tokyo when it happened...I woke up to a gentle rocking and, dazed, hung over, half asleep, kind of enjoyed the sensation and found myself lulled back to sleep.

The next day, at my girlfriend's parents house, nobody seemed to be too freaked out about it. "How was the earthquake? Do you have earthquakes in Canada?"

It wasn't until I got a panicked e-mail from my parents and came on to metafilter here that I realized the severity of what had happened.
posted by Tiresias at 7:52 AM on July 16, 2007


The closest big city to the epicenter was Niigata, which is on the west coast facing the Sea of Japan/East Sea.

The initial tsunami warning has been lifted.

And regarding the "leaking radioactive water":

National broadcaster NHK reported that water containing radioactive material leaked from the plant into the Sea of Japan, but that the radioactivity level was low and posed no environmental danger. The reactor automatically shut down at the time of the leak, the report said. The quake triggered a fire at an electrical transformer at the plant, but plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said earlier in the day that the reactor was not damaged.
posted by mdonley at 7:53 AM on July 16, 2007


Images and video.
posted by ericb at 7:55 AM on July 16, 2007


"A strong aftershock rocked Japan on Monday just hours after an earthquake left at least seven dead and caused a radioactive water leak and fire at one of the world’s most powerful nuclear power plants.

The aftershock was measured at 6.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey, which rated the earthquake at 6.7.

It was not clear if the aftershock caused injuries or damage, but the earthquake injured hundreds and turned buildings into piles of lumber."*
posted by ericb at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2007


Location of Kashiwazaki nuclear power plant.

I lived in a place called Tsuruga for 10 years, and there are five nuclear facilities within a 50 kilometer radius. The Pacific Pintail delivered MOX plutonium oxide fuel to one of the nuke plants there in 2002.

Occasionally, the nuke plant in town would "have an accident", but if it was a "heavy water leak" we always ignored it.

What's really bad is the fact that nuclear waste is stored on-site (it creates radioactive gas) in Japan, or is transported around Japan's roads and highways in unmarked trucks.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:14 AM on July 16, 2007


Interesting that MSNBC downplayed the nuclear aspect.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:17 AM on July 16, 2007


Japan Probe will probably have the best coverage of this.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:20 AM on July 16, 2007


I just wanted to say that the fpp writer needs to be less drama-queeny when constructing earthquake reports for newsfilter..

So far one bridge worth the name has been damaged, the tsunamis were 50cm; the reactor issue, if the authorities can be believed, was minor and incidental. This is not the impression I got reading the fpp.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:21 AM on July 16, 2007


flapjax, are you OK?
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:22 AM on July 16, 2007


7 people are confirmed dead, at least 850 injured, and 8,500 people have been evacuated to emergency shelters.

It's pretty big for us who are here.
posted by gomichild at 8:22 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


You folks realize that "Sizeable Earthquake just off the coast of Japan damaging coastal cities and power plants" is mere code and obfuscation to quell the panic-born riots, right?

* readies Battlesuit and Soul Crystal *
posted by freebird at 8:58 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sure, 6.8 is enough to collapse unsafe structures. The fpp paints a picture of something much more catastrophic than that, and it's not. Being a resident of both Tokyo and California my entire life, events like today's have been happening near me every 2-3 years.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:00 AM on July 16, 2007


Do people in Japan make Godzilla jokes every time there's an earthquake that damages an nuclear power plant? Or would that just get the Japanese equivalent of eye rolling?
posted by GuyZero at 9:01 AM on July 16, 2007


this whole 1-18-08 thing is really getting out of hand.
posted by sxtxixtxcxh at 9:15 AM on July 16, 2007


Do people in Japan make Godzilla jokes every time there's an earthquake that damages an nuclear power plant?

Of course not.

Because they know the Truth, man, so there's not much to joke about. The "haha I hid your protoculture" and "hee hee, who's got happy mecha-feet *now*?" jokers tend to get weeded out after the third Invasion from the Shadow Universe.

[NOT ESSENTIALIZING]

and not meaning to make too light. Hope things are ok.
posted by freebird at 9:25 AM on July 16, 2007


It looks like it's somewhat bad up in Niigata, with a lot of people without power, and some living in high school gyms and other such shelters. But it's hardly a national, much less international, disaster. I was actually somewhat surprised to get the "are you still alive?" email from my parents.
posted by donkeymon at 9:39 AM on July 16, 2007


I agree with Donkeymon's sentiment --- Niigata aside (and I honestly don't mean to belittle their tragedy) this is a relatively small issue in Japan. There was maybe an hour devoted to it on the news, and then it was the Hey! Hey! Hey! music hour and the gentle nausea of the aftershocks.

The Niigata area, however: they've had a rough go of it, and apparently are hit hard fairly often. However, when you get to Japan, the first thing they tell you is that it's the most earthquake prone country in the world, but also the most prepared; it's a testimony to the organisation and efficiency of both the relief effort and the astounding quality of Japanese structural engineering that what could have been a horrific cataclysm was only a small tragedy.

Had it occurred elsewhere, well, who can say?
posted by Tiresias at 9:59 AM on July 16, 2007


Had it occurred elsewhere, well, who can say?

I think Kashiwazaki suffered as badly as it did because it is in Japan. Judging by the televised footage, most of the homes that have destroyed are older, more traditional structures with heavy tiled roofs that are common in rural Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:47 AM on July 16, 2007


astounding quality of Japanese structural engineering

everything post-1975 is pretty good, but anything before that is crap.

Doing websearching for earthquake news, this one appears very similar in scale to the 2005 quake off Kyushu. You remember that one, right?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:49 AM on July 16, 2007


It doesn't really look like the radioactivity leak is that frightening. It's about 1.2 cubic meters of water from a fuel cooling pond, activity estimated at 60 kBq total. The power plant company says it spilled from the pond, which was not damaged.
posted by the number 17 at 10:51 AM on July 16, 2007


everything post-1975 is pretty good, but anything before that is crap.

So what happens to the older buildings? I mean, Japan didn't start getting earthquakes in 1975, and there have to be buildings over a hundred years old in the country. Are they built on particularly safe/lucky ground? Or have people naturally migrated to the places that are least likely to be affected by earthquakes?
posted by saturnine at 11:14 AM on July 16, 2007


The upturned eaves on many older, traditional buildings reflected robot attackers back into the sky before they could active the Earthquake Bombs.
posted by freebird at 11:45 AM on July 16, 2007


The power plant company says it spilled from the pond, which was not damaged.

I'm not sure how much you can trust the words of Japanese nuclear power companies.


Green Action Japan is a particularly good English-language resource about the nuclear industry in Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on July 16, 2007


So what happens to the older buildings?

Earthquakes
frequently leveled entire towns in the past; most buildings in Japan are pulled down every thirty years or so, and a lot of houses are made with steel-beam frames and are more resistant to earthquakes.

The houses in Kashiwazaki were really old, and probably dated back to after the war. The interiors walls, for example, were probably made of wattle and daub mud (it looks nicer than it sounds), while the house posts probably rested on (rather than being bolted to) stone or cement bases in the sandy soil of the region. A good strong earthquake would bring these old houses down.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:58 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who lives in Uonuma City, which is about 20 kilometers from the epicenter in Kashiwazaki City. Both are in the Chuetsu region. She said that there's substantial damage to Kashiwazaki, but where she lives is not too bad. She works as a nurse at a local hospital, however, and she's been called in to handle injuries due to aftershocks.

Incidentally, this same region had another damaging earthquake three years ago of similar magnitude; 39 people died and over 3,000 were injured.
posted by armage at 1:07 PM on July 16, 2007


Heywood Mogroot writes "the tsunamis were 50cm"

Tiny tsunamis ... make me happy.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:24 PM on July 16, 2007


Dear flapjax, wringing my hands here in NYC, worrying if you're ok. Hope you are.
posted by nickyskye at 2:29 PM on July 16, 2007


I hope everyone's ok there too--stay safe. Have most buildings been reinforced, or is it just newer ones and none of the little 2-story ones?
posted by amberglow at 4:09 PM on July 16, 2007


anything built with government money since the late 70s is goldbricked six ways from Sunday and would withstand anything up to Godzilla.

A lot of modern cheap stuff is so loose & light that it's not going to fall down, either.

Issue is the spendy-looking samurai-style housing with the tile roofs and stuff, eg this one. Those were the major killers with the Hanshin quake.

This quake had the usual vertical shock followed by the horizontal shearing shakes.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:43 PM on July 16, 2007


Tokyoite here. I felt this earthquake pretty strongly. It was a bit more intense and a bit longer than "normal". But no damage at all in Tokyo, it's all about 200 km north in Niigata Prefecture. Earthquakes are strange. Sometimes you feel one really strongly, like this one, and later you meet your friends and coworkers and say "Where were you during that quake!?" and they say "What quake?" They affect different areas in different ways.

Have most buildings been reinforced, or is it just newer ones and none of the little 2-story ones?

It's the cut-off date--1975 as previously mentioned, though I've heard it's buildings since 1981. Basically, any building after '81 is more or less ok, unless the ground opens up in a 9.5 quake or something. Any building before that is a crapshoot. Virtually all the buildings that fell in this quake were the old, traditional Japanese homes, with the distinctive tile roofs. In fact, those tiles are so heavy, they're actually a big factor in pulling down the house in a quake.

An architect friend here in Japan told me the newer and taller a building is, the safer it is in a quake. You're better off in the top floor of a wildly swaying skyscraper than a small two-story house (built 30 years ago).
posted by zardoz at 5:02 PM on July 16, 2007


chuckdarwin and nickyskye: I'm so touched by your concern. I am absolutely OK. Sorry to you both for taking so long to respond, but I just now saw this thread and read through the comments, over morning coffee. I was at home at the time of the quake, and didn't feel a thing, actually, which reaffirms what zardoz said just above. Didn't even know it had happened until quite some time later.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:27 PM on July 16, 2007


saturnine : "So what happens to the older buildings? I mean, Japan didn't start getting earthquakes in 1975, and there have to be buildings over a hundred years old in the country. Are they built on particularly safe/lucky ground? Or have people naturally migrated to the places that are least likely to be affected by earthquakes?"

Other people have answered, but I'll add that, basically, you're looking at a matter of statistics. If you consider the number of old houses, you could have 50% of them crash down in an earthquake and still have a lot left. But when we start talking "buildings over 100 years old", there really aren't many of them at all. Basically temples and shrines and other buildings built with massive heavy huge beams. Regular houses just don't survive all that long, partly due to earthquakes, and partly due to fire.

It's nothing like the UK, where it's not unusual to have a 100 year old house. Here in Japan that's almost a tourist attraction.
posted by Bugbread at 7:39 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ahhh...thanks all--stay safe. I'd read too, that the little 2-story houses--even if recent--weren't as safe as big or tall buildings.
posted by amberglow at 7:47 PM on July 16, 2007


Are earthquakes why so much of the subway is aboveground?
posted by amberglow at 7:50 PM on July 16, 2007


Are earthquakes why so much of the subway is aboveground?

No, the regular train lines grew out of the railroads started in the late 19th century. The underground subway lines were built starting in the 1930s, IIRC. The reason for having so many train lines aboveground is the same as anywhere else in the world: it costs a lot to dig tunnels, and it makes more sense to build above ground when you can do it. Earthquakes play no factor. (Note: IANA urban planner or structural engineer.)
posted by armage at 8:03 PM on July 16, 2007


Looks like the death toll is up to 9, with one missing and 1088 people injured, according to the Asahi. As we've been seeing, most of the deaths are elderly Japanese dying after their house collapses on them. There may be even more deaths and injuries as the aftershocks continue.

That region's been through a lot recently. I hope they can try to regain some normalcy after cleaning up from this.
posted by armage at 8:11 PM on July 16, 2007


That region's been through a lot recently.

How so?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:57 PM on July 16, 2007


Considering that the 6.9 Kobe/Great Hanshin quake was just a dozen years ago and killed nearly 7,000 people, a 6.8 followed by a 6.6 is arguably noteworthy. The relatives of the dead and thousands of people who are now homeless would probably agree with that.
posted by kenlayne at 10:08 PM on July 16, 2007


That region's been through a lot recently.

How so?


Well, there was the Niigata Chuestu earthquake in October 2004, where 39 people died. Chuetsu is some distance from Kashiwazaki.

armage may also be thinking of the more recent Noto earthquake, where one person died. Noto (I used to live there) is kinda sorta in the same neighbourhood as Kashiwazaki, the Noto earthquake itself was centered just off the coast of Monzen, on the other side of the peninsula from Toyama and Niigata. Once again, old houses collapsed.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:07 PM on July 16, 2007


Sorry for dominating the thread - Hokuriku is my old 'hood (I've lived in Ishikawa, Toyama and Fukui, and often traveled to Niigata) so I'm pretty interested in this story.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:08 PM on July 16, 2007


Fair enough.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:12 AM on July 17, 2007


Hmm, in Tokyo at the time, and at the 10th floor of a hotel, that felt a bit stronger than usual. What was really interesting was watching footage of the first quake when the second hit, the camera going back to the same reporters looking slightly more put off just moments later. And less funny: emergency crews at collapsed houses fleeing them when the second hit. Some of those injuries are people pulled from completely smashed houses.
posted by dreamsign at 6:33 AM on July 17, 2007


Eh, but yeah, "tsunamis are forming"? Not so much.
posted by dreamsign at 6:36 AM on July 17, 2007


YAYY you being ok flapjax. :)
posted by nickyskye at 7:12 AM on July 17, 2007


I was thinking mainly of the 2004 earthquake. I had a chance to visit the epicenter of that one in Kawaguchi-cho in February 2006. Almost all of the houses there were brand-new. An elderly friend of a friend showed me a commemorative photo album of the event—flattened houses, destroyed roads, and downed power lines were everywhere. Since I have lived my entire life in a place without earthquakes, seeing those photos in the same place that the destruction occured was fairly shocking.
posted by armage at 11:27 AM on July 17, 2007


Japan nuke plant leak bigger than thought.
posted by ericb at 9:01 AM on July 18, 2007


My friends and I felt the quake in Osaka, on the 3rd floor of a 5-floor apartment building. It seemed to last quite a while to us, though oddly enough we could hear some girls walking by on the street below, and they didn't seem to feel a thing - their conversation didn't change a bit as it happened.
posted by emmling at 6:13 AM on July 19, 2007


Not so odd, emmling: it's easier to feel a quake if you aren't moving, and the more surface area you have with what you're on (that is, it's easier to feel lying down than sitting, sitting than standing, and standing than walking), plus buildings sway, so they higher off the ground you are the more noticable the movement.
posted by Bugbread at 3:32 AM on July 20, 2007


Bugbread's dead right about that. If you're walking along on the street, it's gonna have to be a really big quake for you to feel it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:13 AM on July 20, 2007


Yes bugbread is right. Also when you are walking along you may mistake the movement for a truck passing. I do all the time in the car.
posted by gomichild at 11:31 PM on July 22, 2007


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