It is now a week since Japan was hit by the biggest earthquake ever recorded in its history. What followed is all too clear. The massive tremor triggered a series of catastrophes, starting with the huge tsunami that swept the country’s north east coast crushing everything in its path and knocking out the nuclear power plant at Fukishima. The crisis there is on-going and remains critically in the balance.
A one minute silence to remember the victims of this unprecedented sequence of events, described by Prime Minister Naoto Kan as the worst experienced by Japan since the end of the second world war.
The number who perished still remains only a rough estimate. What is certain is that the final cost, both human and economic will easily top that of the Kobe quake in the mid 1990s. So far, authorities say 6500 people have died, but that will rise. At least 10,000 are still missing. The ease with which the tsunami breached some of Japan’s best sea defences was frightening.
The unfolding humanitarian crisis is also of increasing concern. Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless by this twin disaster. Most find themselves in makeshift shelters with only basic supplies of food and water. A sudden drop in temperatures has also added to their misery, particularly for the young and frail.
Hopes of pulling any survivors from the rubble have all but disappeared. Nevertheless, there are some bright spots in the tragedy. Notably, the increasing number of families and relatives that are being reunited.
“I went to our house, but it was not there. All the family members were separated, but, it seems all the children survived,” said one man.
The mass exodus across large parts of the north-east and also Tokyo has left much of the country deserted. There is disbelief at how a nation as sophisticated as Japan, the world’s third largest economy, has been brought to its knees.