Monday, March 14, 2011

Sendai Earthquake

Like the last time I documented a major current event that had everyone at home worried about my safety and tsking about my decision to move to Asia (“I toooold her not to go…”), I wanted to wait a couple days and figure out what was happening myself before passing on my thoughts to you.

Friday afternoon at around 2:30 pm, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred about 131 km from the eastern coastal city of Sendai. Although Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, seeing as it marks the border of several tectonic plates, Friday’s earthquake is the largest ever reported in the region and the fifth largest ever recorded since people started recording these things. To make matters worse, the earthquake triggered tsunamis that extended not only across Japan, demolishing cities with 10 meter waves littering debris, wreckage, and even boats all across the country’s costal regions, but it also triggered tsunamis as far away as Ecuador and Peru almost 10,000 miles away!

Seoul is maybe 700 miles away from Sendai, and somehow the earthquake and ensuing tsunami didn’t impact us one bit.

Friday was a completely normal day for me. I got to work at exactly 1:59, and promptly started calculating how to afford a new camera, a new laptop, and Photoshop before my contract ends in July. (It’s technically possible… if I don’t eat for the next 4 months) At around 4:10, I finished my number crunching and ran over to the bank to send some money home. In the bank, there was a big plasma screen tv flashing images of some natural disaster happening behind the tellers’ heads. It looked like a flood, these strong waters plowing over towns carrying trees, homes, debris, and even boats. As I watched the waters moving further and further inland, I kept expecting it to stop somewhere, to reach a point where there was just no more water left, but it kept going. I pieced together in my broken Korean that it was Japan, and when my transaction was finished, I headed out to obtain a much-needed Friday latte, blissfully unaware that there had been a 9.0 magnitude earthquake merely 700 miles away…

Luckily Korea, unlike Japan, lays tucked away from and not directly on top of 4 different tectonic plates (intersections of such plates being the direct cause of earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis). In this case, the Pacific plate subducted under the Okhotsk plate, and actually pushed Japan about 5 meters closer to Korea. This pushed water in all directions, but Japan shielded any of that water from reaching Korea. Moral of the story, Korea’s location is awesome.

My heart goes out to Japan, the record-magnitude earthquake combined with the smattering of tremors and a 10 meter tsunami that engulfed the eastern coast of the country in a matter of minutes is just unimaginable, or as my coworker Elly would say, "Unbelievable!" I keep picturing the flooding I saw in the bank, watching boats destroying trees and houses as they washed further and further inland. I just can't imagine! I wish there was something I could do, but given the instability of several nuclear reactors and the intentional leaking of radioactive materials into the air (to decrease the pressure in the chambers and prevent a Chernobyl-type explosion), I think it better for me to stay my whole 700 mile distance from the wounded nation for the time being.

So keep Japan in your thoughts. (And don't worry about me.)

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