Oh, that’s right – earthquake

So remember when I said that I wanted to write more than book reviews over here? Yeah, I remember that…. Well, as I have been gently reminded, the recent events in Japan this weekend are pretty good as far as blogging fodder. This is for several reasons: they’re dramatic, and I am far enough away from said events that I am not only alive, but still have a home and an internet connection by which to blog them.

Anyway, a timeline: The first I heard of the quake was when The Boyfriend sent me a text saying that he and the pets were fine, there was just a little shaking, nothing to worry about. Since my school is apparently built on something quite sturdy, I didn’t feel a thing, but within moments the TVs in the teachers’ room were on, and we were all watching the events unfold in horrific real time.

This was right after the high school graduation ceremony. We had all had a nice morning, seeing off our graduated students, taking pictures and swapping contact info, and then this. One of my colleagues has family up in Sendai, and was trying to get through to them, but the phone lines were, as expected, jammed. He had hoped to take a quick flight up there to help out, until we watched Sendai airport get crushed by a ten meter wave.

The rest of the day – the rest of the weekend, in fact – was just a constant parade of horrors as more and more terrible news came to light. Cities had been washed away, and some were not only under water but also on fire, like Kesennuma.

I made sure to put messages out in the Social Network-O-Sphere that I was fine, undamaged and well away from the quake. When I got home, The Boyfriend was watching live coverage on both the TV and his computer, and was pretty wound up about the whole thing. Considering that our building is right next to the Yodo River, this is understandable. He wanted to make plans, what to do if it happens while we’re home, what to do if it happens while we’re away, where we should meet and if anyplace around here could truly be called safe. If the quake had happened down on, say, Awaji island, a wall of water would no doubt have come slamming into downtown Osaka, which would make Friday’s devastation look like small potatoes.

I spent most of my weekend fielding emails and messages and phone calls from people who wanted to make sure that I was okay, which I was. When I wasn’t doing that, we were watching the news and following along as things went from bad to worse. Bad enough that the quake was the biggest in Japan’s recorded history, that entire towns had been flattened, that some towns still couldn’t find half their residents – now we had a nuclear problem as well.

The media in Japan is pretty much like the media in any other country – they’re not allowed to stop and say, “Look – we have no information for you. When we do, we’ll let you know, but until then let’s all just chill and watch some funny cat videos.” So they invited experts on to try and guess what had happened, and those experts predicted everything under the sun. Everything is fine, they said, unless it isn’t. No, there’s going to be a meltdown, just like Chernobyl! No, it’s totally different from Chernobyl, but let me mention Three Mile Island…. The news ran the footage of the Fukushima plant explosion over and over again, without any real information to back up what had happened.

And even after the Chief Cabinet Secretary came on TV and said, “Everyone relax – here’s what happened,” no one could relax. Not with the word “MELTDOWN” being repeated every fifteen to twenty seconds. Not when we learned that they would be flooding the reactor with seawater – an absolute last resort, given that it would permanently cripple the mechanism. Not when problems started arising in other reactors…. Then the internet starts to spin up the panic cycle, with people predicting a massive nuclear cloud swirling across the Pacific and irradiating the west coast of the US, people sending messages as they leave Yokohama for Kyushu just to get away from the possibility of a meltdown, and all the smug hippies going online and saying, “We told you nuclear power was bad! We TOLD you!!!

My personal opinion on this: Nuclear power is like airplanes – you never really think about it until something goes horribly wrong. For the most part, it’s a fine way to generate electricity, especially when we’re trying to cut down on greenhouse gasses and fossil fuel consumption. There are certainly drawbacks, as there are with any kind of power generation. But by and large, nuclear power is safe and clean. Except when it isn’t. And a 9.0 earthquake followed by a tsunami of historic proportions is one of those times. Engineers in Japan are very good at preparing for disasters, but the Earth is also very good at creating them. And the Earth will, inevitably, win.

When I got online this morning, there was a message on my Facebook home page that Tokyo Electric was going to start rolling blackouts across the prefectures that had been receiving power from the Fukushima plant. Across Eastern Japan, train services will be suspended or limited, and areas will experience power outages lasting about three hours each. How long this will continue, no one knows. Fortunately, I live down in Kansai, which is run on a very nearly separate power network, so we won’t be affected down here.

That last line is full of frustration, too: we won’t be affected down here. Really, all we can do is watch and donate money. The economic hit that the country is going to take will catch up with us pretty quickly, I imagine, but in terms of actual aid or sacrifice right now, there isn’t a whole lot we can do.

And of course, this has brought out the cockroaches as well, figuratively speaking. Apparently there’s this diseased meme going around the dark, sweaty, squalid parts of the internet wherein this whole disaster is some kind of cosmic retribution for – of all things – Pearl Harbor. One of the earlier jackasses to use this is a Family Guy writer who has a cutoff point for disaster humor. When the death toll is 200, it’s okay to make jokes. When the death toll is possibly 10,000, it’s insensitive. I would really like to know at what number of drowned, burned and crushed people, missing family members, destroyed houses, businesses and livelihoods, things go from funny to not-funny. If Alec Sulkin would like to provide us with his estimate, I would greatly appreciate it.

Also, the less said about those who believe this was triggered by a “supermoon” or HAARP, the better.

All in all, a pretty crappy weekend for Japan, and it’s not going to get a lot better. Entire towns are gone, and the week will probably be a relentless parade of body recovery. The rebuilding will be a Herculean effort for a country that is not in the best of economic shape as it is. All we can do is what the Japanese are very good at – pick up, move on, and recover.