International Disaster Reduction Meeting Begins in Northern Japan

A two-day international meeting on disaster reduction opened on Tuesday in northeastern Japan, a region hit hard by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March last year.

The meeting, held mainly in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, has brought together ministers and experts from some 100 countries and organizations for talks to share their experiences of and lessons learned from natural disasters, including the Japanese earthquake.

“I would like you to feel the energy of disaster-affected people trying to move ahead toward a tomorrow,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said at the opening.

Japan will provide some 3 billion dollars in aid over the three years from 2013 to promote efforts to make the world more resistant to natural disasters, Noda said.   

A junior high school student from Onagawa, Miyagi, gave a presentation on the March 2011 disaster and proposed disaster-reducing measures.

Revitalizing Japan: Building a disaster-resistant nation

The Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami damaged many electric power stations. As a result, rolling blackouts and mandatory curbs on power consumption were put in place. The disaster highlighted the vulnerability of a society largely dependent on big power stations.

A small building stands in the middle of Tateshina Heights in Nagano Prefecture, 3,900 feet above sea level. The surrounding forests, where elegant resort homes are scattered, resound with echoes of the Kosaigawa river. The facility, which resembles a small warehouse, is a concrete water intake.

The intake channels water from the river to an underground pipe, which carries it down a steep 71-yard-long slope. The water provides power to the generator of the Tateshina power station in Chino City in the prefecture. The small-scale hydroelectric power plant generates up to 260 kilowatts and sells about 500 households’ worth of electricity to Chubu Electric Power Co.

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Dial a Pope: Pope on TV comforts girl in quake trauma

Vatican City — Pope Benedict XVI consoled a Japanese girl, 7, reassured a mother about her ailing sons soul and advised a Muslim woman that dialogue was the way to peace in Cote dIvoire.

In a push to engage the world online, the pontiff fielded their questions during an unusual Good Friday appearance on Italian TV. It was hardly a casual or spontaneous chat: Seven questions were selected from thousands that poured in via RAI televisions website, and Benedict recorded his answers last week.

He seemed a bit stiff, sitting all alone in a big white chair behind his desk inside the Apostolic Palace as an unseen interviewer read out the letters to him.

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Japan’s Government Orders Compensation for Nuclear Plant Evacuees

Japans government ordered the operator of a tsunami-damaged nuclear plant leaking radiation to pay $12,000 to each household forced to evacuate from the area, but some of the displaced said Friday the handout was not enough.Tens of thousands of residents unable to return to their homes near the nuclear plant are bereft of their livelihoods and possessions, unsure of when, if ever, they will be able to return home. Some have traveled hundreds of kilometers miles to Tokyo Electric Power Co.s headquarters in Tokyo to press their demands for compensation.Hiroaki Wada, a Trade Ministry spokesman, said Friday that TEPCO will pay compensation as soon as possible, with families forced to evacuate getting 1 million yen about $12,000 and individuals getting 750,000 yen about $9,000. Payments are due to begin on April 28.

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Japan Orders Nuclear Plant Operators to Obtain More Generators

Radiation readings spiked sharply in one reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after a powerful aftershock late Thursday, according to data released by the government, a development that might indicate new damage to the already compromised reactor.

But the plant owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said the gauge used to measure radiation was most likely broken.

The high radiation was measured in the drywell of Reactor No. 1, directly below the reactor pressure vessel and part of the primary containment that is a crucial barrier preventing the escape of radioactive materials. The drywell reading raised the worrisome possibility that highly radioactive water had escaped, and perhaps even material from the nuclear core, although this was far less likely.

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Taro, Japan: Seawall Offered a False Sense of Security From Tsunamis

TARO, Japan — So unshakeable was this town’s faith in its seawall and its ability to save residents from any tsunami that some rushed toward it after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northeast Japan on the afternoon of March 11.

After all, the seawall was one of Japan’s tallest and longest, called the nation’s “Great Wall of China” by the government and news media. Its inner wall was reinforced by an outer one, and they stretched 1.5 miles across the bay here. The surface was so wide that high school students jogged on it, townspeople strolled on it, and some rode their bicycles on it. A local junior high school song even urged students: “Look up at our seawall. The challenges of tsunamis are endless.”

But within a few minutes on March 11, the tsunami’s waves tore through the outer wall before easily surging over the 34-foot-high inner one, sweeping away those who had climbed on its top, and quickly taking away most of the town of Taro.

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Yakuza to the Rescue after Twin Disasters

The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s “losers” a.k.a. the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving. The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region. An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza. The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.

The Inagawa-kai has been the most active because it has strong roots in the areas hit. It has several “blocks” or regional groups. Between midnight on March 12th and the early morning of March 13th, the Inagawa-kai Tokyo block carried 50 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City Hall (Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture) and dropped them off, careful not to mention their yakuza affiliation so that the donations weren’t rejected.

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Obama pledges U.S. support for Japan in call to Kan

President Barack Obama told Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a call on Wednesday the United States will do all it can to help Japan recover from an earthquake and tsunami, the White House said.

"The president briefed Prime Minister Kan on the additional support being provided by the U.S., including specialized military assets with expertise in nuclear response and consequence management," the White House said in a statement after the two leaders spoke by phone.

"Prime Minister Kan briefed the president on the status of Japanese actions to contain the nuclear emergency and to bring the situation under control."

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Japan quake magnitude raised to 9.0

Japan’s Meteorological Agency says the magnitude of Friday’s earthquake that hit the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan was 9.0 instead of 8.8 as earlier announced.

The agency made the correction on Sunday morning after analyzing seismic waves and other data. The magnitude is equivalent to that of the 2004 earthquake off Sumatra, Indonesia, which triggered massive tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

The agency says the focal zone of Friday’s quake was about 500-kilometers long and 200-kilometers wide. Destructive movement along the fault continued for more than 5 minutes.

The Meteorological Agency says only 4 other quakes in the world have recorded magnitudes of 9 or over.

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Quake-hit Japan nuclear plant faces fresh threat

Japan battled to contain a radiation leak at an earthquake-crippled nuclear plant on Sunday, but faced a fresh threat with the failure of the cooling system in a second reactor.

Operator TEPCO said it was preparing to release some steam to relieve pressure in the No.3 reactor at the plant 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo — which would release a small amount of radiation — following an explosion and leak on Saturday in the facility’s No. 1 reactor.

As strong aftershocks continued to shake Japan’s main island the desperate search for survivors from Friday massive earthquake and tsunami continued, and the death toll was expected to rise.

Thousands spent another freezing night huddled over heaters in emergency shelters along the northeastern coast, a scene of devastation after the 8.9 magnitude quake sent a 10-meter (33-foot) wave surging through towns and cities.

Kyodo news agency said the number of dead or unaccounted for as a result of the quake and tsunami was expected to exceed 1,800. It also reported there had been no contact with around 10,000 people in one small town, more than half its population.

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