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Earthquake-tsunami tolls climbing categorically

Date Posted: 2011-04-14

Just shy of five weeks since the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on northern Japan, industry, government and scores of citizens are still trying to define the massive disaster and quantify what it all means.

The final death toll is still a long way from being counted from the March 11th 9.0 magnitude earthquake that was followed by a horrendous tsunami that has left a confirmed 13,000 dead and another 14,000 missing. In many of the missing cases, officials and families fear they’ll never know for sure what happened to the people; they’re presumed to have been swept to sea by the tsunami and their bodies will never be recovered.

Japan’s government has its hands filled with the aftermath, with scores of severe issues earthquake and tsunami, damaging reactors and their containment vessels and spewing radioactivity into the air and water. Initially, the tsunami was thought to have been 10 meters high as it swept over the Tokyo Electric Power Company-run Fukushima power plant 188 kilometers north of Tokyo, but Tepco and government officials have studied the video and found it far worse; the tsunami topped 15 meters as it struck the plant. The tsunami wiped out crucial cooling systems after the plant’s electricity was cut, sending radioactive fuel rods into a scramble and melting. The revamped tsunami wave height of 15 meters (51 feet) swept across the plant, built 10 meters above sea level, with a wall of power crazed water 16’ high.

The 410-square-kilometer earthquake area around Tohoku is going to take years, and trillions of Japanese yen, to restore physical plants. Already, the Japanese government is under fire for everything from not anticipating the quake to a poor, unresponsive reaction to it. The government is trying to cope with thousands of families left homeless, many others with missing and dead friends and family members, as it tries to pull it together with continued search efforts for both the dead and the living, while stepping forward to come up with housing for the 188,000 survivors left homeless by the disaster.

Radiation pouring from the Fukushima No. 1 plant has now elevated the treat to a level not recorded since the Chernobyl disaster decades ago. “The government’s move is always one step behind,” says the chairman of the Institute for Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Radiological Defense, Tadao Inoue. “That caused damage to spread.” An off-limits zone stretches in a dozen kilometers radius around the power plant, and fruits and vegetables are being found to contain radiation. Even the rice crops that account for millions of tons annually that feed the domestic population are in danger as the government has banned planting for fears the soil is contaminated.

The government is asking construction companies to erect 30,000 housing units by next month and another 40,000 by August, but the building process is being stymied by a shortage of both land and building materials. Only 6,000 temporary pre-fabricated homes are currently uinder construction. “It is necessary to help local governments by allowing farmland, government-owned land and forests to be used as temporary housing zones,” says Akihiro Ohata, the Land Minister. “We will also be asking the U.S. and European countries to help provide construction materials if we can’t locate enough ourselves.

One of the biggest elements looming in front of the Japanese government struggling with coping with the disaster is how to pay for it. Estimates for restoring and reconstructing the disaster zone is now estimated at something between ¥18-25 trillion, and that doesn’t even factor costs surrounding the nuclear crisis. Add that, with estimates Tepco will face losses of more than ¥700 billion by having to decommission the Fukushima No. 1 and nearby Fukushima No. 2 power plants, and the toll far exceeds damages from the Great Hanshin Earthquake that rattled and devastated Kobe in 1995. That earthquake claimed far fewer than half the lives already known to have been lost in the March Tohoku earthequake. Kobe killed 6,400 and caused damages of ¥10 trillion.

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