Desperation, panic grip Japan after quake

Survivors of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami huddled in shelters and hoarded supplies on Saturday as rescue workers searched a mangled coastline of submerged homes, cars and stranded boats.

Photo gallery

Aerial footage showed buildings and trains strewn like children’s toys after powerful walls of seawater swamped areas around the worst-hit city of Sendai, about 130km from the earthquake’s epicentre.

“Everything is so hard now,” said Kumi Onodera, a 34-year-old dental technician in Sendai, a port of one million people known as the “City of Trees” and cradled by dormant volcanoes.

Onodera said her ordeal the night before was “like a scene from a disaster movie”.

“The road was moving up and down like a wave. Things were on fire and it was snowing,” she said. “You really come to appreciate what you have in your everyday life.”

Adding to the panic, radiation leaked from an unstable nuclear reactor in Fukushima prefecture, near Sendai.

In districts around Fukushima city, survivors lined up for drinking water in town centres, filling teapots and plastic containers. Japan deployed tens of thousands of Self-Defence Force officers to search for missing people.

In Iwanuma, not far from Sendai, nurses and doctors spelled SOS on the rooftop of a partially submerged hospital, one of many desperate scenes. Across the north-east, worried relatives checked information boards on survivors at evacuation centres.

Hundreds of fishing vessels, many upturned, stood stranded in fields, pummelled by the 10m tsunami.

Japan’s Kyodo News said about 300 000 people were evacuated nationwide, including 90 000 from areas near the nuclear plant, many seeking refuge in shelters, wrapped in blankets, some clutching each other sobbing.

Helicopters plucked survivors from an elementary school in Sendai. About 100km further south in Koriyama, families slept in sleeping bags in a stadium.

At least 1 700 people were feared killed by the earthquake, the world’s fifth-most powerful in the past century. As many as 3 400 buildings were either destroyed or badly damaged, Kyodo reported. About 200 fires had broken out, including three that still raged in the north-eastern city of Kesennuma , Kyodo said.

Hoarding, long wait for supplies
Off Japan’s north-eastern coast, an oil tanker lay eerily stranded in shallow water. Inland, in Sendai, a black mini-van perched perilously on a metal post.

In one town, Minamisanriku in Miyagi prefecture, as many as 9 500 were people could not be contacted, about half its population, Kyodo reported.

Cellphones remained down for much of the region and more than five million people were without power.

In Mito, another town in the area, long lines formed outside a damaged supermarket as hundreds waited for medicine, water and other supplies. Supplies ran low as people stocked up, not knowing how long it would take for fresh goods to arrive.

“All the shops are closed, this is one of the few still open. So I came to buy and stock up on diapers, drinking water and food,” Kunio Iwatsuki (68) told Reuters.

In Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened village in far-northern Iwate prefecture, survivors scrambled to retrieve their belongings, at times clambering over uprooted trees and overturned cars to reach levelled homes.

The Japan Rail service was in chaos, some of its cars buried in mud or laying twisted on farmland. Four trains in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures were missing.

Oil leaked from a refinery into the harbour of Shiogama City in Miyagi.

In Tokyo, where many have long feared the prospect of another monster earthquake of the scale that killed about 140 000 people in 1923, residents struggled to come to terms with damage inflicted on the country and their city.

Some were relieved the damage in the capital was not greater, but many remained panic-stricken about the continuing chaos elsewhere, especially as radiation leaked from the nuclear reactor in Fukushima prefecture.

“People make manuals for earthquakes, but when the earthquake actually happens, can you actually follow the manual?” said 60-year-old officer worker Kiyoshi Kanazawa.

“Everyone runs away when things are shaking, and they ask you to stop the gas and fire in your house, but you do not have enough space for this in your brain.” – Reuters

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


The rule of law in times of crisis: Covid-19 and...

Under a state of national disaster, some rights may be suspended. But it is critical to remember that the Constitution itself is not suspended

Test backlog skews SA’s corona stats

With thousands of samples still waiting to be processed, labs are racing to ramp up testing to help the government gain a better idea of how prevalent Covid-19 really is

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories