Posted tagged ‘tsunami’

Still no answers at Fukushima

April 18, 2011

We all remember the day they finally got the damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico capped and we could start the recovery from one of the world’s most devastating environmental disasters.

We can only wonder when that turning point will come — if ever — in the Japanese nuclear crisis at Fukushima.

More than a month and a half after a calamitous earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the cooling systems for the six reactors, we seem no closer to getting the disaster that supposedly couldn’t happen under control.

The utility that owns the plant yesterday released a plan it claims will get the site cooled and decontaminated by the end of the year, but there seems to be little public confidence it’ll actually happen as radiation levels soar, contaminated material leaks into the ocean and trace amounts of cesium and iodide are detected as far away as Hawai‘i and the West Coast.

It’s been a story of setbacks more than progress, with the tens of thousands of people evacuated from a 12-mile radius left in excruciating limbo. A similar area around the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine remains mostly uninhabited 25 years after the disaster there.

It’s a situation where you cross your fingers and hope for the best, but have a bad feeling that the worst may be yet to come.

And you ponder the folly of trying to harness powerful natural forces that may be inherently beyond the control of man.

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Let’s stop whining about evacuations

March 14, 2011

For the second time in two years, officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Hawai‘i Civil Defense have had to defend themselves against public grumbles that they were too quick to order disruptive coastal evacuations after major earthquakes.

The most complaints came after last year’s Chile earthquake caused only minor roiling of the water here, but there were still gripes last week after a tsunami from the 9.0 Japan quake caused considerably more damage on several islands but no fatalities, leaving officials somewhat on the defensive.

Dr. Gerald Fryer of the tsunami warning center said the coastal evacuations were exactly why there were no fatalities last week. “This evacuation was necessary,” he said. “This was the right thing to do.”

Said John Cummings of O‘ahu Civil Defense, “If we chose not to evacuate and we take damage and injuries and casualties, we are in for a lot of trouble. If we order an evacuation and we have a nondestructive tsunami and we sounded the sirens, we will still have people who are upset. But we have to err on the side of public safety.”

There is simply no disputing what they say, and it’s unbelievable that our threshold for inconvenience has become so low that they even have to defend their judgment.

Looking at the Napoopoo houses knocked off their foundations and in one case into Kealakekua Bay, the flooded businesses in Kailua-Kona, the significant damage to boats and harbors on O’ahu, Maui and the Big Island, there’s no questions that we would have seen deaths if there was no evacuation.

The surge at Napoopoo was at least 11 feet high and reached more than 100 feet inland. Lucky the residents were out of there. A wave like that in a more densely populated coastal area could be catastrophic.

There’s no way to predict all the variables with 100-percent accuracy, but we’re blessed to have the technologically advanced warning system that we do.

When I was a teen in Hilo in the mid-1960s, we had no sophisticated forecasting, but evacuated with little complaint every time there was a major earthquake in the Pacific Rim. Of course, we had the 61 dead in the 1960 Hilo tsunami fresh in our memories.

Let’s not grumble our way to another grim reminder of the cost of being caught unprepared.


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