Russell Board was in Indonesia six years ago and saw firsthand the devastation of a 35-foot wave at Banda Aceh in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. When Friday's tsunami struck near his home in Japan, he was in Singapore, forced to watch a similar disaster from a distance-and to wait hours before learning that his children, grandchildren, and church family members had survived the devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake and the tsunami waves that inundated Japan's coastal areas afterward.
"My wife and I feel cut off right now, wishing we were there with our family, but trusting them to the Lord's care," he said. Board is a long-standing contributor to WORLD who is also director of Asia/Pacific Missions for IPHC World Missions Ministries. He lives in Saitama, just north of Tokyo. He and his wife have lived and worked in Japan since 1989, and his three daughters and their families also are there. One daughter and her family were in Tokyo when the quake struck just after 2 p.m. local time Friday. Traffic was overwhelming: What's normally a one-hour drive home took six hours.
Board does not know the condition of his own home but family members said they lost household items like printers and appliances, he said, that crashed to the floor during the shaking. Tokyo area residents reported a dozen aftershocks during the night, and several strong tremors Saturday morning. "Each one brings a strong emotional 'aftershock,'" Board said via email, "in the form of anxiety over the onset of another major quake."
Church friends all have reported that they are safe, said Board, but many have relatives in the northern prefectures-closer to the epicenter-who are without heat and power. Like many, his pastor's brother and family members spent Friday night in their car, both for safety and for warmth. Others WORLD managed to hear from also said they were without electricity, water, phone service, and heat, and some parts of the area had snow overnight.
Concrete information about survivors in areas affected by the quake and tsunami was hard to come by during the first 24 hours. Reporters who reached by helicopter Sendai, the northeastern port city of 1 million near the epicenter, found seawalls punctured where water had swept in from the ocean and then swept out again carrying pieces of buildings and other debris, visible for miles out to sea. "Tens of thousands of trees that lined the shore were stripped bare and snapped at the base like matchsticks," reported Chester Dawson and Yoree Koh in an online posting at The Wall Street Journal website. Roads and bridges had washed away, they said, and only foundations were visible where buildings once stood. "No more than a handful of pedestrians could be seen for hundreds of miles up the coast," they reported.
As search and rescue got underway, Japanese authorities faced another pending disaster: nuclear meltdown. On Saturday they announced that Fukushima Dalichi No. 1 nuclear reactor, 150 miles north of Tokyo, may be experiencing a meltdown as a result of the failure of its cooling system. Over 3,000 people within two miles of the plant were asked to evacuate. But when authorities detected eight times the normal level of radiation outside the facility, that radius was raised to over six miles encompassing about 10,000 people. Emergency efforts to contain nuclear fallout are likely to accelerate: A second reactor and three units at another nearby nuclear site also are compromised.
Later on Saturday, an explosion at the Fukushima Dalichi reactor destroyed the exterior walls of the building where the reactor is placed. Government spokesman Yukio Edano said the explosion did not harm the actual metal housing enveloping the reactor. Edano added that the blast did not cause radiation levels to increase, but instead it has decreased.