Friday March 11th, 2.46 pm will be forever be etched in the minds of people worldwide - For that's the precise moment the nation of Japan was rocked by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake - the fifth largest tremor since scientists began keeping records in the late 1800's. And, it gets worse . . . .
Within about 30 minutes, the massive earth movement, epicentered on the northeastern side of the Japanese island of Honshu, triggered a tsunami that hurled giant 23-ft. waves onto the entire eastern side, killing hundreds of residents, carrying away many homes, ships and even trains and, triggering uncontrollable fires. Adding to the woes, are the 125+ aftershocks, measuring over 5.0 in magnitude, that have continued to rattle the country since the big quake.
Amongst the hardest hit, is the coastal town of Sendai, in the Miyagi Prefecture. The town of one million people has lost 300 residents while an estimated 1,000 are still missing. To make matters worse, there is no electricity or clean water.
Things are no better in neighboring Kesennuma- A third of the town is engulfed in uncontrollable fires that began when oil and gas leaked from cars tossed around, by the tsunami. Residents who live in the outskirts have been asked to evacuate incase the fires continue to spread. Another fire that erupted at the Cosmo Refinery in Ichihara city near Tokyo, is also burning out of control.
Even Japan's capital, Tokyo is in shambles. Following the earthquake, millions of residents lost power and cell phone reception. Even the landline phones were erratic. The train system also shut down, leaving millions of commuters stranded - Some had to walk more than 3 hours, to get home.
Now residents are facing a new fear - An explosion and fear of possible meltdown at one of its nuclear power plants has led to fears that residents may get exposed to harmful radioactive material. Thousands of people that live in the vicinity of the plant have been evacuated, while others have asked to stay in their homes with the windows closed and air-conditioning switched off and also, to avoid drinking tap water.
The effects of the tsunami are not restricted to Japan. The ripple effect has been felt all the way from Hawaii to Crescent City, Oregon, which was evacuated on Friday, after the swells got increasingly large.
Experts believe that this giant quake, which has resulted in a 25 centimeter change in the Earth's tilt, was caused by a significant realignment of the tectonic plates - by as much as 25 kilometers in the 500 kilometer fault line that lies off the coast of Japan. The force of the earthquake was so powerful that it has shifted Japan's Honsho Island, 2.4 meters to the east.
While the size of this tremor is unusually large, Japan is no stranger to earthquakes. It bears the brunt of 20% of all quakes of magnitude 6.0 and higher, thanks to its location right atop the deadliest section of the 'Pacific Ring of Fire' - a 40,000 km horseshoe shaped area that lies on the edge of the Pacific plate - the biggest and most active of the nine tectonic plates that cover the Earth's surface and where 90% of the world's quakes occur.
Thanks to the hot malleable lava that lies below the Earth's crust the tectonic plates are constantly in motion. This means they often rub against or collide with each other. As a result, they sometimes get stuck together and pressure starts to build in the locked areas. When one these stuck sections suddenly give away, the land tremors, resulting in what we call, earthquakes.
Since the Pacific plate is so large and dense and moves faster than any of the other plates, these kind of occurrences are not only constant, but also much more severe, with the impact being felt all the way from Japan to New Zealand, United States, Canada and even, as far as, Chile. And while we have come a long way in being able to predict the occurrences of these movements, it is still an inexact science, subject to the whims of the ground below us.
However, we believe that with a little help from the rest of us, the resilient and strong-willed people of Japan will be able to recover completely from this unfortunate event and emerge even stronger then before.
Resources: news.google.com,dailymail.co.uk,huffingtonpost.com, monstersandcritics.com