Tuesday 22 March 2011

Japan - survival story

Over the weekend, an 80 year old woman and her 16 year old grandson were saved from the rubble of a house in Ishinomaki city that had been demolished in the Japanese earthquake 9 days before.

They were in their kitchen when the quake struck, and survived by eating yoghurt and other food from the fridge. The grandson managed to reach the roof of the house, where he was able to flag down a rescue helicopter. They are now being treated in hospital.

The official death toll from the earthquake and tsunami has risen to more than 9,000, and more than 12,500 are still missing. For other stories of remarkable escapes, see my blogs of July 4, 2009 and Aug 24, 2010.

*Just discovered a new review of A Disastrous History of the World in the Sandwell &Great Barr Chronicle of January 27.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Fukushima - tell it like it is

Suspicions that the Japanese authorities were not being totally open about the effects of last week’s earthquake on the Fukushima nuclear power station (see my blog of March 14) appear to have been well grounded.

It has now been revealed that we are experiencing the world’s worst nuclear accident apart from Chernobyl, and officials admit that what they had originally said was only a local problem, really has ‘wider consequences’. Unsafe radiation levels have already been found in milk and spinach, though they claim this still represents no risk to human health.

Japan’s government concedes that it ‘could have moved a little quicker’ in providing accurate information. Well, let us hope we are now being told the whole truth. All six reactors have problems of some kind, and the alert level has been raised one notch. Today workers at the plant are hoping to restore some of the automatic cooling systems.

Altogether, just over 7,300 people are known to have died in the earthquake, with 11,000 more still missing.

*The earthquake has prompted a newspaper columnist to think about my book – A Disastrous History of the World.


If you want to help people in Japan, here’s a good way:-


Monday 14 March 2011

Japan earthquake - nuclear fears

As reports come in of thousands of bodies being washed up on the north-eastern shore of Honshu – Japan’s main island – following the earthquake and tsunami, concern is now growing about the danger of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power station.

Two reactors have been damaged by explosions, and a third has its cooling system out of action. The government is saying there is no cause for alarm, but more than 20 people are being treated for the effects of radiation, and tens of thousands have been evacuated, while the US military has pulled its people back from the area.

The decision to build nuclear power stations in an area so prone to earthquakes was heavily criticised. Atomic energy and secrecy tend to go hand in hand, so everyone is hoping the Japanese authorities are being more open than the Soviet apparatchiks at Chernobyl in 1986, where a ‘safety experiment’ produced the world’s worst nuclear accident.

At first they tried to hush the whole thing up, and it was only when a Swedish monitoring station detected unusual levels of radiation that the Russians began to admit the truth. Twenty-five years after the explosion, people are still dying from its effects, and some estimates put the number of additional cancers that it will cause as high as 200,000.

* Yesterday I was interviewed about the earthquake on BBC Radio Berkshire. This is the link:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_tLViNtSlU

Sunday 13 March 2011

Japanese earthquakes

We have seen some astonishing television pictures of a raging tsunami, but we still have no real idea of how many people may have been killed in Friday’s earthquake in Japan. The town of Rikuzentakada is almost completely underwater, while at the port of Minamisanriku, around 10,000 people are missing, though the authorities did manage to evacuate about 7,500.

Japan is no stranger to earthquakes. Back in 1703, Tokyo – then known as Edo – was devastated in a quake that killed an estimated 150,000 people, and there was a similar death toll in the one that struck the city just before noon on September 1, 1923.

Tokyo has always been a city of close-packed houses in narrow alleys, and in 1923 they were mainly built of wood and paper. Many families were cooking on open stoves, and when these fell over, they started fires all over the city, which then combined into furious conflagrations, which claimed more victims than the earthquake itself.

When the rebuilding began, there were suggestions that Japan’s capital should be moved to a new safer site, but people decided they wanted to go on living where they always had.

*I was interviewed about the earthquake on the BBC’s Three Counties Radio, and you can hear the interview via this link


Tuesday 8 March 2011

'War on drugs' spreads

Another 18 people have been added to the death toll in Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ as rival gangs fought gun battles in the north-eastern town of Abasolo. That brings the total number killed over the last five years to a staggering 34,000.

Now the ‘war’ is spreading, as the Mexican mafias move into neighbouring countries, such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The last two now have the highest murder rates in the world.

The mobs run training camps, and recruit among ex-soldiers laid off as defence spending has been cut. Central America is reckoned to have 70,000 young people who are members of gangs.

The countries involved are among the poorest in the world, and receive little outside help. (See also my blogs of June 10,12 and Sept 10, 2010.)

Tuesday 1 March 2011

New Zealand's worst disasters

The death toll in last week’s earthquake at Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island stands officially at 154, but the authorities are warning it could rise as high as 240. Today the country held a two-minute silence to commemorate the victims.

The earthquake – with a force of 6.3 - was not as strong as many others that have done less damage, such as last September’s in the same region which was measured at 7.1. On that occasion, the quake happened in the middle of the night when there were fewer people around, and it also struck further from the surface.

Though survivors were being pulled from the rubble left by the Haiti earthquake eleven days after the disaster (see my blog of Jan 24, 2010), all hope seems to have been lost of finding anyone else alive in Christchurch.

New Zealand’s deadliest ever natural disaster remains the Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931 which happened on the country’s North Island. Measured at 7.9, it killed 256 people. The country is prone to earthquakes because it lies along the boundary between the Australian and Pacific plates.