One-metre tsunami hits Japan

An earthquake centred off the north-east coast of Japan hit the country on Friday, measuring 7.3 in magnitude according to the US Geological Survey (USGS) and causing houses as far away as Tokyo to shake violently for several minutes. Emergency procedures were undertaken following fears of a consequent tsunami, with tsunami alarms sounding along the north-east coast. In actuality, the earthquake, which measured 5 on the Japanese scale of 1 to 7 in the Iwate, Miyagi, Aomori, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures, triggered a tsunami of only one metre in height, compared to the 11-metre tsunami of 2011.

The 1-metre tsunami hit at Ishinomaki, in Miyagi where trains halted operations and Sendai airport closed its runway.  Radio broadcasts on the national NHK station told people on the coast to leave their homes immediately and one presenter said, “remember last year’s quake and tsunami. Call on your neighbours and flee to higher ground now!” Telephone systems were jammed up with calls as family and friends attempted to contact each other. Many people heeded these, and other, calls to move to higher ground before all alerts were later lifted and there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries. The USGS reported at least six aftershocks, the strongest of which was 6.2 in magnitude. Several smaller tsunamis were also recorded, including a 40-centimetre wave at Soma, a city that lies just outside the evacuation zone declared around the Fukushima nuclear plant after meltdowns there last year. However US monitors in Hawaii said there would not be a Pacific-wide tsunami and officials in both Indonesia and the Philippines said there was no threat of a localised tsunami.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, reported no irregularities at its plants following the earthquake and tsunami, though workers were ordered to move to higher ground. A TEPCO spokesperson said, “no abnormalities have been recorded on instruments at the [Fukushima] nuclear plant’s six reactors. All workers were ordered to take shelter inside buildings at the Fukushima plant.”

In the wake of last year’s disaster, Japanese people have been extremely alert to the possibilities of further tsunamis, and public spending on quake-proof buildings is now a major issue in the upcoming Japanese elections. Technology also now allows for warnings to be sent directly to people’s mobile phones, up to tens of seconds before an earthquake begins. However, the science behind longer-term predictions – hours, days or weeks in advance – is the subject of intense research. This ranges from using satellites to detect tiny deformations of the Earth’s surface through purely mathematical approaches to harnessing animals’ purported ability to sense coming quakes. Despite this research, scientists are still some way from making reliable predictions, and avoiding the damaging risk of false alarms.

The March 2011 earthquake and following tsunami killed nearly 20,000 people and triggered the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years when the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant was destroyed, leaking radiation into the sea and air.

Sources include: The Guardian, BBC News, Japan Today

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