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Days After Disaster

March 20, 2011

It’s been a week now since the earthquake. Aftershocks have continued the whole time, and soon after the original earthquake, tsunamis destroyed the closest areas. The prefectures of Ibaraki, Fukushima and Miyagi have suffered huge damage, which is replayed constantly on the TV. For about the first two days after the earthquake, every channel was showing constant 24-hour footage of the quake and its aftereffects. Insane, unreal images are played one after the other, and over and over again.

The earthquake itself was over fairly quickly, however the aftereffects of that earthquake have continued. After the tsunami, the next big danger which was uncovered was the danger at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It had been damaged by the quake and ensuing tsunami, and now the cooling system was broken, meaning it was on its way to dangerously overheating, and a possible meltdown. People within a 3km radius were told to evacuate, an area which quicly became a 10km radius, then 20, then 30. Some agencies are now saying 80km.

Despite being 250km north of Tokyo, there is still unease in the capital about what might happen if something went drastically wrong. Elevated levels of radiation have been measured, about twice that of normal, and while they are still too low to be of any real danger to humans, are definitely unsettling as a sign of possible things to come.

The earthquake damaged train tracks, and power supplies, meaning that train services have plummetted, and some have stopped altogther. Anyone who has seen the images of Tokyo operating normally by physically forcefully squashing commuters into already-dangerously overpacked trains should realise that when the trains are unable to run, that means a ton of people left over. Ordinarily, those packed-tight trains come every 3 minutes or so. Now that trains are coming maybe every 15 minutes, or maybe far less frequently, the number of people wanting to gt on each train is nothing short of absurd. TV shows lines of people out of the platform, through the gates, out of the station, and down the road, waiting to board their train. People are literally waiting hours for the privilege of getting on one of those things. Some of the richer are taking taxis, but the queues for them aren’t much better.

However, while nature has been the cause of most damage further north, the main reason for discomfort in Tokyo is man-made. And by that, I don’t mean the nuclear plant, but Panic. People have overreacted to the danger, an made things even worse in the process. By the end of the day of the earthquake, it was already nearly impossible to find ready-to-eat food in the convenience stores and supermarkets. Over the next few days, that spread to meaning that there was no staples of food left anywhere in the city. Rice, bread, milk, and many other things just ceased to exist, as people went downtown and bought out entire shops, thinking only of themselves.

As of that weren’t bad enough, everyone also rushed to the petrol stations, backing up in queues down the road, filling up as many things as they could, to the point that all petrol stations actually ran out of petrol. Now, with no petrol left, the food delivery trucks are unable to restock any shops. All over the city, people are going hungry, unable to have eaten anything like real food in days, while others are sitting with houses overflowing with goodies, in a situation which simply doesn’t warrant it. Next to diappear from shops was toilet paper.

The damage to the nuclear plants, as well as other issues, has meant that the level of power available in this part of the country has dropped sharply. Everybody is being told to be aware of their energy consumption, and to keep it as low as possible. If not, there’s likely to be an all-out blackout, which will be incredible in a city so dependent on machines as Tokyo. Most people seem to be complying with the call for energy restriction, and all around Tokyo, the once vibrant city lights are dimmed to a faint glow. Shops have dropped down to about half the light, making wandering through rows of emplty shelves even more grim than it would have been otherwise.

And to top it all off, the weather took a turn for the worse. It seemed we were just starting to come out of winter, when around the day after the earthquake, the temperature dropped several degrees. Tokyo has suddenly become a place where you need to use the heater, but can’t, and up north, where everyone has lost their homes and are sitting amongst rubble, it has started to snow.

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