March 11th brought a multitude of disasters that Japan will be recovering from for a long time. The majority of the damage brought to the coastal towns, businesses, individual homes and the lives of many, as seen in Yamada, is still unbelievable.
The tsunami warning system that Japan has in place is considered the best in the world, however more than 20,000 people were killed by the tsunami. The system is able calculate the height of tsunami within a quick 3 minute period based on modeling patternes of over 100,000 previous earthquake conditions. The Japan Meteorological Agency, however, has admitted that the system was not capable of calculating beyond an 8.0 earthquake. The first quake that hit was a 7.9 and within minutes, towns like Yamada were informed of a 5 meter (approximately 16 feet) tsunami. The wall that was built to protect the town close to the water was about that high. By the time the 9.0 quake hit and calculations were made for a much higher tsunami, it’s believed that most of the warning systems power was already out or the people were not able to hear the new information announcing up to a 10 meter tsunami!
Toshiaki’s cousin, Takehiko (see story), was very likely one of the people who made his decision based on the first announcement and choose to wait it out while his mother, Miya, scurried to higher ground.
The announcement system is also a concern. I often hear the daily announcements when visiting Toshiaki’s hometown and wonder how everyone can understand the muffled announcements. My sister in law, Kazuko, has assured me that after an earthquake there is a bell or buzzer-like sound with the tsunami information to follow. She also told me that some of the homes that are not close enough in town to connect to the loud speaker system, now have a wireless service that will give them the information.
With a couple dozen earthquakes in just the last week, not to mention nearing 2000 since March 11th, it can be hard to avoid the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome. However, Japan’s Meteorological Agency is committed to upgrading their system, local towns are finding ways to send clearer faster signals and citizens have now witnessed the inconceivable strength of nature and will probably be more willing to move faster.
While the Tohoku area is still far from decided where to rebuild and most areas may never rebuild close to the water again, this information can be valuable for other tsunami-proned areas.
(information taken from Yomiuri-Science and Nature)