Tag Archives: environment

Japan wakes up to scenes of destruction in aftermath of tsunami and quake

By Malcolm Foster, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

TOKYO – A ferocious tsunami unleashed by Japan’s biggest recorded earthquake slammed into its eastern coast Friday, killing hundreds of people as it carried away ships, cars and homes, and triggered widespread fires that burned out of control.

Hours later, the waves washed ashore on Hawaii and the U.S. West coast, where evacuations were ordered from California to Washington but little damage was reported. The entire Pacific had been put on alert — including coastal areas of South America, Canada and Alaska — but waves were not as bad as expected.

In northeastern Japan, the area around a nuclear power plant was evacuated after the reactor’s cooling system failed and pressure began building inside.

Police said 200 to 300 bodies were found in the northeastern coastal city of Sendai, the city in Miyagi prefecture, or state, closest to the epicenter. Another 178 were confirmed killed, with 584 missing. Police also said 947 people were injured.

The magnitude-8.9 offshore quake triggered a 23-foot (seven-meter) tsunami and was followed for hours by more than 50 aftershocks, many of them more than magnitude 6.0. In the early hours of Saturday, a magnitude-6.6 earthquake struck the central, mountainous part of the country — far from the original quake’s epicenter. It was not immediately clear if this latest quake was related to the others

Friday’s massive quake shook dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometre) stretch of coast, including Tokyo, hundreds of miles (kilometres) from the epicenter. A large section of Kesennuma, a town of 70,000 people in Miyagi, burned furiously into the night with no apparent hope of being extinguished, public broadcaster NHK said.

Koto Fujikawa, 28, was riding a monorail when the quake hit and had to pick her way along narrow, elevated tracks to the nearest station.

“I thought I was going to die,” Fujikawa, who works for a marketing company, said. “It felt like the whole structure was collapsing.”

Scientists said the quake ranked as the fifth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and was nearly 8,000 times stronger than one that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month.

“The energy radiated by this quake is nearly equal to one month’s worth of energy consumption” in the United States, U.S. Geological Survey Scientist Brian Atwater told The Associated Press.

President Barack Obama pledged U.S. assistance following what he called a potentially “catastrophic” disaster. He said one U.S. aircraft carrier is already in Japan, and a second is on its way. A U.S. ship was also heading to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed, he added.

An American man working at one of the nuclear plants near the coast when the quake hit said the whole building shook and debris fell from the ceiling. Danny Eudy, 52, a technician employed by Pasedena, Texas-based Atlantic Plant Maintenance, and his colleagues escaped the building just as the tsunami hit, his wife told The Associated Press.

“He walked through so much glass that his feet were cut. It slowed him down,” said Pineville, Louisiana, resident Janie Eudy, who spoke to her husband by phone after the quake.

The group watched homes and vehicles be carried away in the wave and found their hotel mostly swept away when they finally reached it.

The government later ordered about 3,000 residents near that plant — in the city of Onahama — to move back at least two miles (three kilometres) from the plant. The reactor was not leaking radiation but its core remained hot even after a shutdown. The plant is 170 miles (270 kilometres) northeast of Tokyo.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said pressure inside the reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal, and slightly radioactive vapour may be released to reduce the pressure.

The Defence Ministry said it had sent dozens of troops trained to deal with chemical disasters to the plant in case of a radiation leak.

Trouble was reported at two other nuclear plants, but there was no radiation leak at either of them.

Japan’s coast guard said it was searching for 80 dock workers on a ship that was swept away from a shipyard in Miyagi.

Even for a country used to earthquakes, this one was of horrific proportions because of the tsunami that crashed ashore, swallowing everything in its path as it surged several miles (kilometres) inland before retreating. The apocalyptic images on Japanese TV of powerful, debris-filled waves, uncontrolled fires and a ship caught in a massive whirlpool resembled scenes from a Hollywood disaster movie.

Large fishing boats and other vessels rode high waves ashore, slamming against overpasses or scraping under them and snapping power lines along the way. Upturned and partially submerged cars bobbed in the water. Ships anchored in ports crashed against each other.

The tsunami roared over embankments, washing anything in its path inland before reversing directions and carrying the cars, homes and other debris out to sea. Flames shot from some of the homes, probably because of burst gas pipes.

Waves of muddy waters flowed over farmland near Sendai, carrying buildings, some of them ablaze. Drivers attempted to flee. Sendai airport was inundated with thick, muddy debris that included cars, trucks, buses and even light planes.

Highways to the worst-hit coastal areas buckled. Telephone lines snapped. Train service in northeastern Japan and in Tokyo, which normally serve 10 million people a day, were suspended, leaving untold numbers stranded in stations or roaming the streets. Tokyo’s Narita airport was closed indefinitely.

In one town alone on the northeastern coast, Minami-soma, some 1,800 houses were destroyed or badly ravaged, a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said.

As night fell and temperatures hovered just above freezing, tens of thousands of people remained stranded in Tokyo, where the rail network was still down. The streets were jammed with cars, buses and trucks trying to get out of the city.

The city set up 33 shelters in city hall, on university campuses and in government offices, but many planned to spend the night at 24-hour cafes, hotels and offices.

Japanese automakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda halted production at some assembly plants in areas hit by the quake. One worker was killed and more than 30 injured after being crushed by a collapsing wall at a Honda Motor Co. research facility in northeastern Tochigi prefecture, the company said.

Jesse Johnson, a native of the U.S. state of Nevada who lives in Chiba, north of Tokyo, was eating at a sushi restaurant with his wife when the quake hit.

“At first it didn’t feel unusual, but then it went on and on. So I got myself and my wife under the table,” he told The Associated Press. “I’ve lived in Japan for 10 years, and I’ve never felt anything like this before. The aftershocks keep coming. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know whether it’s me shaking or an earthquake.”

NHK said more than 4 million buildings were without power in Tokyo and its suburbs.

A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in the city of Ichihara and burned out of control with 100-foot (30-meter) flames whipping into the sky.

“Our initial assessment indicates that there has already been enormous damage,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. “We will make maximum relief effort based on that assessment.”

He said the Defence Ministry was sending troops to the hardest-hit region. A utility aircraft and several helicopters were on the way.

Also in Miyagi prefecture, a fire broke out in a turbine building of a nuclear power plant, but it was later extinguished, said Tohoku Electric Power Co.

A reactor area of a nearby plant was leaking water, the company said. But it was unclear if the leak was caused by the tsunami or something else. There were no reports of radioactive leaks at any of Japan’s nuclear plants.

Jefferies International Ltd., a global investment banking group, estimated overall losses of about $10 billion.

Hiroshi Sato, a disaster management official in northern Iwate prefecture, said officials were having trouble getting an overall picture of the destruction.

“We don’t even know the extent of damage. Roads were badly damaged and cut off as tsunami washed away debris, cars and many other things,” he said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 2:46 p.m. quake was magnitude 8.9, the biggest to hit Japan since record-keeping began in the late 1800s and one of the biggest ever recorded in the world.

The quake struck at a depth of six miles (10 kilometres), about 80 miles (125 kilometres) off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles (380 kilometres) northeast of Tokyo. Several quakes hit the same region in recent days, including one measured at magnitude 7.3 on Wednesday that caused no damage.

A tsunami warning was extended to a number of areas in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and Latin America, including Japan, Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Chile. In the Philippines, authorities ordered an evacuation of coastal communities, but no unusual waves were reported.

Thousands fled homes in Indonesia after officials warned of a tsunami up to 6 feet (2 metres) high, but waves of only 4 inches (10 centimetres) were measured. No big waves came to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, either.

The first waves hit Hawaii about 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT). A tsunami about 7 feet (2.1 metres) high was recorded on Maui and a wave at least 3 feet (a meter) high was recorded on Oahu and Kauai. Officials warned that the waves would continue and could get larger.

Japan’s worst previous quake was a magnitude 8.3 temblor in 1923 in Kanto that killed 143,000 people, according to USGS. A 7.2-magnitude quake in Kobe in 1995 killed 6,400 people.

Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific where about 90 per cent of the world’s quakes occur, including the one that triggered the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 nations. A magnitude-8.8 temblor that shook central Chile in February 2010 also generated a tsunami and killed 524 people.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/major-tsunami-8-9-quake-devastates-japans-eastern-20110311-015219-970.html

 


BP Oil

In Gulf, good news is taken with grain of salt

Campbell Robertson NEW YORK TIMES

NEW ORLEANS—There is little celebration on the Gulf Coast.

Even with the news of the tentative plugging of BP’s well, the attention here has largely been focused elsewhere, on a week’s worth of reports, culminating in a federal study released Wednesday, that the oil in the Gulf of Mexico has been rapidly breaking down and disappearing. These reports have been met, for the most part, with skepticism if not outright distrust.

“It’s not gone,” said George Barisich of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance, who has been making his money these days selling anti-BP T-shirts while also working in the Vessels of Opportunity program, a BP effort created to employ boats to help with the spill cleanup. “Mother Nature didn’t suck it up and spit it out.”

According to federal scientists, about a third of the oil was captured or mitigated by recovery efforts, a quarter naturally dissolved or evaporated and 16 per cent was dispersed into microscopic droplets. Just over a quarter remains on or below the surface or has washed ashore, and is either being collected or is degrading naturally.

But many here have grown skeptical after the false assurances following Hurricane Katrina, the early flow rate estimates from BP and federal agencies that turned out to be drastically low, and cautionary tales from Alaska about the Exxon Valdez disaster.

The skepticism has been stoked by environmental groups that came to the gulf in droves, lawyers who have been soliciting clients from billboards along roads leading south, a sensation-hungry news media and politicians who have gained broad popularity for thundering in opposition to response officials.

It has also been fed by continued discoveries of oil clumped in marshes, stratified underneath fresh sand or exposed in the surf at low tide. These sightings do not contradict the scientific reports, which acknowledge millions of litres of residual oil, but they fuel a broadly held fear: that the oil is merely hidden, liable to appear in a thick, brown ooze at any time.

Federal scientists and coastal residents agree in at least one respect: that the long-term effects of the spill are unknown, and that it is too early to make any conclusions about the true scale of the damage. That uncertainty leads to perhaps the most potent source of skepticism: a deep anxiety about the region’s economic future.

The anxiety begins in the short term. Billions of dollars have poured into the gulf during the response, supporting coastal communities that have had a dreary summer but also enriching contractors involved in the cleanup. Any news of dissipating oil hints at a looming end to that.

BP has promised full compensation, but that has not stopped officials and residents from pursuing lawsuits or seeking billions more in restoration payments.

Just as the problems were being ironed out in the Vessels of Opportunity program, which had left many hurting commercial fishermen on the outside, recoverable oil started disappearing on the surface.

Plenty are worried that there will be no revenue to take the program’s place as it wraps up.

“Even if it is true,” Barisich said of the reports of dissipating oil, “and I can go catch some shrimp right now, I can’t sell it. I don’t have a dealer or processor who can take it right now.”

Commercial fishing waters are being opened all along the coast, which can be done only with the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and after a variety of tests. Many fishermen, who early on were angered at what they saw as premature closings of water where little oil was visible, are now among the most concerned that the waters are being opened too quickly.

The perception of healthy seafood is nearly as important for the business as the reality, and reassuring consumers can be a long and tricky process.

“Alaska, it took them almost five years to overcome their perception challenges,” said Ewell Smith, the executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

And while BP has recently highlighted its efforts to speed up the claims process, more than two-thirds of claims have not been paid, mostly because adjusters are waiting on documentation that may be hard to come by for many in the largely cash-driven fishing business.

The economic worries still come back to a fundamental disagreement: Many residents simply do not believe that the oil is going away any time soon, whatever scientists are saying.

Fishermen are also keenly concerned about shrimp, crab and finfish larvae. If the larvae are in jeopardy, it may not be known until future fishing seasons, even after the cleanup ends.

Scientists have found hydrocarbons and possibly dispersant in samples of crab and fish larvae, but say that it is premature to draw any conclusions about the long-term effects.

Oil spill by the numbers

On June 2, the area closed to commercial and recreational fishing was at its largest measuring 230,000 square kilometres, which is approximately 37 per cent of Gulf of Mexico federal waters.

Approximately 31,400 people are involved in the cleanup.

More than 5,050 vessels have been chartered.

Almost a million metres of containment boom and 2.5 million metres of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill.

More than 131 million litres of an oil-water mix have been recovered.

Approximately 6.9 million litres of total dispersant have been applied.

411 controlled burns have been conducted, efficiently removing a total of more than 42 million litres of oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and wildlife.

More than 1,000 kilometres of Gulf Coast shoreline is currently oiled — mainly in Louisiana, but with serious impacts in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida.

Total oil spilled: 780 million litres.

BP has spent $3.12 billion US cleaning up the oil spill.

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/843653–in-gulf-good-news-is-taken-with-grain-of-salt


BP says mud has plugged well……but for how long???!

Clifford Krauss NEW YORK TIMES

HOUSTON—An operation that pumped heavy drilling mud to plug BP’s runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been so successful that Obama administration officials said on Wednesday they are convinced it will never leak again.

BP began the effort, known as a static kill, late Tuesday and stopped pumping after about eight hours to verify that they had filled the Macondo well with mud without springing any new leaks.

Senior government scientists and BP engineers combed through data throughout the day to evaluate the condition of the well piping and whether it made sense to pour cement for a final plug from a surface ship above the well or through a relief well still being drilled.

Technicians said a decision whether to fill the well with cement this week might come later in day. But they said there was no doubt the static kill represented a major step in finally bringing the volatile well under control.

“We have reached a static position in the well that allows us to have high confidence that there will be no oil leaking into the environment,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, head of the federal spill response told reporters at a White House briefing. “And we have significantly improved our chances to finally kill the well with the relief well.”

The successful maneuver came almost four months after the well blew out, gushing nearly 780 million litres of crude into the Gulf of Mexico and killing 11 rig workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon platform on April 20. For nearly three months engineers repeatedly failed in their attempts to cap or contain the spill, until they finally were able to fit a tight fitting cap on the well three weeks ago.

President Obama, who had suffered political damage from the perception that he was slow to respond to the crisis, hailed what he called “the welcome news.” In a speech to the A.F.L.-C.I.O., he said, “The long battle to stop the leak and contain the oil is finally close to coming to an end.”

In the static kill procedure, engineers poured an estimated 2,000 barrels of mud at slow but gradually accelerating speeds from a surface vessel through a choke line into the blowout preventer on top of the well and into the oil reservoir.

Engineers still must determine if there are any leaks anywhere outside the production casing, an effort that requires careful readings of pressure fluctuations in the well. If there are no new leaks, government scientists and BP engineers will probably decide to plug the well with cement from the top, engineers following the process said.

But if they find leaks, the engineers said, they will need to fill the well with cement from the bottom through one of two relief wells being drilled. The first relief well, now 30 metres from intersecting the well, is scheduled to be completed by Aug.15. A second will be done shortly after that in case the first well misses its mark.

The static kill may only plug the centre of the well pipe, and not the portion of the well called the annulus between the inner piping and the outer casing. The relief well can intercept both, if the static kill cannot fill the entire pipe.

In the end, BP and government technicians may decide to plug the well with cement both from the top and the bottom for extra insurance that the well will never leak again.

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/843660–bp-says-mud-has-plugged-well