Friday, March 11, 2011

Will a Tsunami Hit and, If So, Where?

Many of us in the Northeast awoke to the news of the earthquake that struck northeastern Japan, making it the largest earthquake to ever strike the country and the fifth largest ever recorded in the world since 1900! The massive earthquake was registered at a magnitude of 8.9. President Obama was awoken at 4AM this morning due to tsunami warnings, with Hawaii, the west coast of the US, Latin and South America on alert. The warning has been lifted for New Zealand but initially 50 countries were notified about a potential tsunami.

The images from Japan have been striking with boats and vehicles being swept by massive waves, as well as houses, and the infrastructure collapsing. The buildings swayed in Tokyo, which is over 200 miles from the earthquake's epicenter, with airports closed, communications down, the high speed trains at a standstill, and fires raging in the northeast of the country. Luckily, the nuclear power plants were shut down automatically. Japan has an extensive, well-thought out building code, from lessons learned after the Kobe earthquake.

When I saw the news early this morning I immediately contacted my colleagues in Hawaii, a former student whose family lives in Japan (he just sent me a message that they are alright), and I even have a colleague at UMass Amherst who is scheduled to fly for spring break today to Costa Rica, another country where the alert has been sounded, not to mention Chile (which had an earthquake just last year and a tsunami warning), Colombia, and Peru. My last email correspondence last night was with a colleague in New Zealand so I breathed a sigh of relief that the tsunami warning has been lifted there since this country had its own recent earthquake that devastated Christchurch.

And my colleague from Hawaii just wrote to me: Anna: Thanks for your kind thoughts. Waves are beginning to hit the shoreline right now, and we should have a clearer idea soon of what kind of magnitude to expect.

We will have to wait, watch, and see what happens over the next several hours.

We are a global community so when disaster strikes the impacts propagate. Let's hope for the best.