A time to bear witness

Last night a massive earthquake hit just off the coast of Japan. The quake measured 8.9 on the Richter scale – the highest in Japanese recorded history – and generated a series of tsunamis. The highest wave measured over 7 metres. Over 1200 tweets per minute raced in as the wave, clocked at 900 kilometres per hour, swept away buildings, cars and people. Some of those tweets came from people trapped in their cars and carried by the water up to 4 kilometres inland. Aftershocks continue – many register 5.0 or greater on the Richter scale.

Every news channel showed live footage of those tsunamis sweeping inland via NHK Television. Their helicopter flew ahead of the wave, dispassionately recording and transmitting as people tried to outrun the water in their cars. Such was the speed of the tsunami that some buildings, which had caught fire in the initial quake, were carried along, still burning.

At the time of writing, nearly 400 people are confirmed dead. In Miyagi prefecture, police report up to 300 bodies on the shore near where the tsunami struck. 1000 people are officially missing, presumed dead. Villages are smashed flat. Ships and boats lie stranded on farmland, and piles of cars and trucks are tangled up with the remains of buildings. News agencies report that people are buried alive under rubble, calling out for help.

There is a nuclear emergency taking place in Fukushima prefecture. The 40-year-old plant shut down its power according to earthquake protocol and started the backup diesel generator. It failed. Temperatures are rising and radiation may be leaking – levels up to 8 times normal are already registering. Radioactive steam may cause an explosion – or if the core is exposed, a runaway reaction.

This comes on the heels of the devastating Christchurch earthquake.

That followed Cyclone Yasi in north Queensland.

And before that, the floods that tore through Queensland, including the so-called ‘inland tsunami’ that nearly destroyed much of the Lockyer Valley.

This is not a time to turn away and think about something else, because it’s too upsetting. This is not a time for politics. This is not a time for racism or jingoism. This is not a time for sermons about repentance and the end of the world, or finger-pointing. No matter what your politics may be, no matter what religion you subscribe to, if any – this is a time to remember that down where it matters, we are all humans, and we all suffer.

This is a time to bear witness.


Radioactive steam was released from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant to relieve the steadily-rising pressure on the reactor. At this stage, no one knows if a meltdown has, or will take place.

The confirmed death toll stands at 613.

Actor George Takei(of Star Trek and Heroes fame) has been constantly updating his Twitter account with news and information on where and how to donate to the relief appeal. This update, however, is the one that stands out.

‘Today we are all Japanese … ‘


One Response to A time to bear witness

  1. Terry Cominos says:

    A short well written piece, worth reading!

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