Tag Archive: Japanese military


How one Japanese village defied the tsunami

In this photo taken Tuesday, April 26, 2011, a construction worker walks on Fudai flood gate in Fudai town, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan. The http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110513/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_village_that_survived

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press Fri May 13, 2:04 pm ET

FUDAI, Japan – In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.

Fudai is the village that survived — thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.

The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.

His 51-foot (15.5-meter) floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than $30 million in today’s dollars.

“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.

The floodgate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns on March 11. Two months after the disaster, more than 25,000 are missing or dead.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said.

Towns to the north and south also braced against tsunamis with concrete seawalls, breakwaters and other protective structures. But none were as tall as Fudai’s.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort — a double-layered 33-foot-tall (10-meter-tall) seawall spanning 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It proved no match for the tsunami two months ago.

In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but it caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. And the community is lucky to have two mountainsides flanking the gate, offering a natural barrier.

The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.

Fudai, about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lures tourists every summer.

But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened Japan’s northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.

“When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words,” Wamura wrote of the 1933 tsunami in his book about Fudai, “A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty.”

He vowed it would never happen again.

In 1967, the town erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall.

The village council initially balked.

“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”

Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.

Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts.

“I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.

The concrete structure spanning 673 feet (205 meters) was completed in 1984. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefecture and central government, which financed public works as part of its postwar economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a firefighter had to rush down to shut them by hand.

The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.

Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”

The floodgate works for Fudai’s layout, in a narrow valley, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the solution for other places, Fukawatari said.

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen ($47 million) to its fisheries industry.

One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.

Wamura left office three years after the floodgate was completed. He died in 1997 at age 88. Since the tsunami, residents have been visiting his grave to pay respects.

At his retirement, Wamura stood before village employees to bid farewell: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”

___

Follow Tomoko A. Hosaka at http://twitter.com/tomokohosaka

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Hope and loss in Japan’s search for 8,000 missing

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_devastation

By JAY ALABASTER and FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Foster Klug, Associated Press Wed Mar 16, 5:19 pm ET

NATORI, Japan – Line after line, a list on the wall of city hall reveals the dead. Some are named. Others are identified only by a short description.

Female. About 50. Peanuts in left chest pocket. Large mole. Seiko watch.

Male. 70-80 years old. Wearing an apron that says “Rentacom.”

One set catches the eye of Hideki Kano, a man who appears to be in his 30s.

“I think that’s my mom!” he says. He rushes out into the snow, headed for a makeshift morgue.

The list in Natori, and others along Japan’s northeast coast, will only get longer.

Five days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, the official death toll is more than 4,300. More than 8,000 people are still missing, and hundreds of national and international rescue teams are looking for them.

In the industrial town of Kamaishi, 70 British firefighters in bright orange uniforms clamber over piles of upturned cars to search a narrow row of pulverized homes. They wear personal radiation detectors amid fears of leaks from damaged nuclear plants far to the south.

One woman’s body is found wedged beneath a refrigerator in a two-story home pushed onto its side.

“Today and tomorrow there is still hope that we will find survivors,” says Pete Stevenson, head of the British rescue crews. “We’ll just keep on carrying out the searches.”

Those seeking loved ones have posted hopeful notes in temporary shelters and other public places. They cover the front windows of Natori City Hall, blocking the view inside:

“I’m looking for an old man, 75 years old, please call if you find him.”

“Kento Shibayama is in the health center in front of the public gym.”

“To Miyuki Nakayama: Everyone in your family is OK! We can’t use our mobile phones, so you can’t call us, but we’re all here. If you can come home, please come! We’re praying for you.”

City officials have posted a list of 5,000 people staying at shelters. Yu Sato, 28, snapped photos of the names.

“I’ll post them on the Internet so people living far away can check,” he says.

In Otsuchi town, Reiko Miura conducts her own search.

She’s looking for a 50-year-old nephew who couldn’t flee the tsunami because of a work injury that had phyiscally disabled him. His mother — Miura’s sister — asked her to look for her son.

But for the 68-year-old woman, it is a struggle just to recognize the neighborhood, now a sea of mud punctuated by tossed cars and mounds of debris.

“I’m pretty sure that my family home is here. It was a big house,” she says upon reaching a pile of rubble in a location that feels familiar. But there’s no sign of her nephew, and she trudges back across the mud, unsure what to tell her sister.

The devastation is of such magnitude that it is hard to imagine some of the communities ever being rebuilt. Town after town has been wiped away.

Each curve in the road opens onto a new scene of destruction — a van balanced precariously on the railing of a Buddhist temple, a handbag inside an overturned washing machine.

Kesen is virtually a ghost town.

Miyuki Kanno, who lives a few miles (kilometers) away, rode his bicycle down a mud- and water-choked section of road looking for information about missing relatives. He guessed it would take 20 years for Kesen to come back.

“Your hometown is your hometown. They’ll rebuild. I don’t know if the young people will come back, but they’ll rebuild,” he says.

Farther north in Ofunato, 72-year-old Keiichi Nagai is less sure.

He stands on the edge of a huge wasteland that used to be the low-lying part of the city. He shakes his head and repeats, “There’s nothing left, there’s nothing left.”

He points at a washed-up fishing boat that he said destroyed his house. All he managed to salvage was a small brown wallet with a hospital card.

“There’s nothing left of this place,” he says. “The population is going to be half what it was. It’s scary to live here now. People will think it’s dangerous. There’s a chance another tsunami will come. I won’t live here. Maybe on the hill but not here.”

Some 430,000 people are in temporary shelters, too worried about daily survival to think of the future.

Some 350 in the gym and theater of an Ofunato middle school have fashioned beds from cardboard mats and blankets. Elderly residents huddle around gas heaters, and youths kick a soccer ball on a snow-laced baseball field.

Japanese military officers stock vats of water in a parking lot and ferry in bananas, rice balls and miso paste.

In Kesennuma, another coastal city, Kayoko Watabe arrives at a shelter after trudging through mud and thick snow. The 58-year-old woman is wearing the same clothes she had on when the tsunami struck.

She is staying with relatives who lack electricity, heat and water, and she’s come to the shelter — a junior high school — to get food and other necessities. There, she finds survivors living in classrooms. Most lie on the floor, wrapped in blankets. The stench of unflushed urinals fills the hallway.

“We’ve never seen or experienced suffering like this,” she says. “All I can think about is where to get food and stay warm.”

____

Klug reported from Kesen, Kesennuma and Ofunato, Japan. Associated Press writer David Stringer in Kamaishi, Japan, and AP videojournalist Koji Ueda in Otsuchi, Japan, contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110316/ts_yblog_thelookout/japans-nuclear-crisis-where-things-stand

The ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has turned into what one analyst calls “a slow-moving nightmare,” with fires, leaks of poisonous radiation, and mass evacuations.

With events shifting quickly, and a sometimes confusing succession of announcements coming from authorities, it can be hard to get a clear sense of exactly what’s happening, and of what to expect going forward. So here’s a rundown, based on several recent news reports, on where things stand five days in…

 

What’s at the root of the problem?

Friday’s earthquake and tsunami caused power outages across northern Japan — including at the Daiichi plant, which comprises six separate reactors. That in turn caused a failure of the reactors’ cooling systems, which are needed to keep the nuclear fuel from overheating and melting down and/or triggering an explosion, releasing poisonous radiation into the atmosphere.

What’s the current situation at the plant?

Yesterday, an explosion caused the containment vessel covering the Number 2 reactor to crack, releasing into the air a surge of radiation 800 times more intense than the recommended hourly exposure limit in Japan. One third of the fuel rods at the reactor were reportedly damaged. In addition, another powerful explosion blew a 26-foot wide hole in the side of Number 4 reactor, causing fires to break out and a pool containing spent fuel rods to begin dangerously overheating.

The Japanese military tried to use helicopters to dump water from the air to cool the Number 4 reactor, but that plan was abandoned after a third explosion — this one damaging the roof and cooling system of the Number 3 reactor — because it would have meant flying a helicopter into radioactive steam. Gregory Jaczko, the top U.S. nuclear official, said today that all the water was gone from the pool containing the fuel rods at the Number 4 reactor — an assertion denied by a spokesman for the Japanese power company that runs the plant. If Jaczko is correct, it would mean there is nothing to stop the fuel from melting down, spewing radiation.

Water was also poured into the Numbers 5 and 6 reactors, suggesting that essentially the entire plant could be at risk of overheating.

In what appears to have been an understatement, the plant operator described the situation at the Number 4 reactor as “not so good.” But in some ways the rupture at the Number 3 reactor is especially troubling, because it’s the only reactor that uses plutonium as part of its fuel mix. If absorbed into the bloodstream, plutonium can stay in the liver or bone marrow and cause cancer.

Japanese officials said early Thursday they’re close to completing a new power line which would restore the cooling systems for the reactors, but it’s unclear when the line will be up and running.

How much of the surrounding area is likely to be affected by the radiation?

The government has told the roughly 140,000 people who live within 18 miles of the plant to stay indoors, but has said that people outside that zone can safely go outside. However, some experts have accused the Japanese authorities of underplaying the severity of the crisis. The U.S. embassy has recommended that Americans within 50 miles of the plant evacuate the area or stay indoors.

Tokyo, 180 miles south of the plant, has recorded radiation levels only slightly above normal. Still, both France and Australia have urged their nationals throughout the country to leave, and many Tokyo residents have been staying indoors. One American couple living in Tokyo told family they don’t yet see a need to leave, but are monitoring the situation closely.

What other ideas are being considered?

In what experts describe as a last-ditch effort, police are hoping to use a water cannon — usually used to quell riots — to cool the nuclear fuel. Officials have also proposed using boric acid, which can help slow nuclear reactions by absorbing neutrons.

On Monday, 750 workers were withdrawn from the facility, leaving a core of 50 to battle the crisis alone while exposing themselves to potentially deadly levels of radiation. But even those workers appeared to have been withdrawn today after a surge in radiation caused by new explosions made the area too dangerous.

What are the best- and worst-case scenarios?

The best case scenario is that efforts to cool the fuel rods succeed, and damage to the surrounding environment is limited to an area within about 15 miles of the plant. The worst is a full-scale meltdown of the reactors caused by overheating, which would release much larger amounts of radiation into the air than has yet occurred.  In that case, the damage could potentially approach the level of the Soviet Union’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster, for which estimates of deaths vary from 4000 to close to one million.

How does the crisis rank, in terms of nuclear plant accidents?

On Saturday, Japanese authorities ranked the incident a Level Four on a one-to-seven scale used to rank nuclear accidents. but things have worsened since then, and yesterday France’s nuclear authority said it should be classified as a Level Six. Chernobyl is the only Level 7 accident ever to have occurred.

In this image released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., smoke billows from the No. 3 unit among four housings cover four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.  (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

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