I see the pictures, I watch the videos, I read the news – but the mind refuses to accept the enormity of the tragedy.
Since Friday morning (Israel time), my thoughts have been mostly with the poor souls in Japan who have lost their lives, their homes, their towns – to the great tsunami waves that followed in the wake of the strongest earthquake to hit Japan in recorded history. The death toll will likely be in the tens of thousands, but the number of people affected by this brutal unleashing of earth’s power will be countless times higher.
Many people have phoned or emailed me to check whether I was in Japan. I am currently in Israel (I haven’t been in Japan since last November). Even if I were there, I would most likely have been in Tokyo, who suffered major jolts but passed this earthquake mostly unscathed. Yes, people walked for hours to get home on Friday, and some had to sleep in train stations, and there is some food shortage – but this discomfort pales in comparison to the unfolding tragedy in the northeastern part of Honshu island.
As my mind cannot wrap itself around the pictures I’m seeing, and it’s anyway too early to grasp the magnitude of the devastation, I prefer to think of the future. There is no doubt in my mind that Japan will emerge stronger from this calamity. The Japanese people have a long and proud history of overcoming hardships and building anew from the ruins.
One area I believe the Japanese will master is dealing with tsunamis. From the pictures of the devastation in Sendai, a coastal city of one million only 130 kilometres east of the earthquake’s epicentre, one glaring fact emerges: the buildings that the tsunami waves washed away were standing. A mega earthquake hits, the largest in the country’s history, and most buildings remain standing! This is testimony to Japan’s decades-long investment in construction technologies that are designed to withstand the strongest possible shocks. Just as Japan leads the world in construction technologies, I believe that Japan will now spearhead the development of early-warning and defensive technologies in the area of tsunami waves.
Another area that will likely get affected by this earthquake is nuclear power technologies. Japan is the the world’s third largest nuclear power user, with more than a third of the country’s electricity being provided by more than 50 nuclear reactors. If the failure at the Fukushima nuclear power plant creates a meltdown of any kind – a contained one like in Three Miles Island or, God forbid, an uncontained one like in Chernobyl – then the ramifications for nuclear power in Japan (and perhaps worldwide) will be significant. And the significance may be not only in the area of nuclear power, but perhaps also in the area of alternative sources of energy to reduce the reliance on nuclear reactors.
My prayers and my thoughts are with the millions of Japanese who were affected by this earthquake.