Wiz Quiz 10: Japan’s struggle with the four elements

Image courtesy Vision Magazine

Earth, water, fire and air.

These are the four basic elements of matter as seen in ancient Greek, Hindu and other traditions. Each had different names for them, but the concepts were similar.

And in recent days, Japan has been experiencing multiple disasters involving all these elements.

It started with the 9.0-magnitude megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan that occurred at 2.46 pm Japan time on 11 March 2011. Its epicentre was 130 kilometres off the east coast of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku, near Sendai. The earthquake triggered highly destructive tsunami waves of up to 10 meters (33 ft) that struck nearby coastal areas minutes after the quake, and in some cases travelled up to 10 km (6 miles) inland. The earthquake and tsunami waves killed over 5,000 people, caused massive property damage and started fires in some affected locations. Most worrying was the damage caused to the Fukushima II nuclear power plant where reactors damaged by the quake and tsunami led to an accidental leak of radioactivity.

Japan has a long history of living and coping with disasters, but the magnitude and confluence of multiple disasters has plunged the country into the worst crisis since the Second World War. This week’s Wiz Quiz devotes several questions to the history and science of tsunamis.

As it turns out, thanks to Japan’s strict building codes and preparedness, the country could absorb much of the powerful earthquake. But the massive tsunami is what caused most of the damage — there is little defence against the mighty waves that come roaring inland, wiping out everything in their path…

Read Wiz Quiz 10: Japan’s struggle with four elements

Grace under pressure: Japan faces tough test from 3/11 disasters – quake, tsunami, meltdown…

Cartoon by Geneva-based Patrick Chappatte, who works for International Herald and Le Temps

Since Friday March 11 afternoon, I’ve been watching the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Japan caused by multiple disasters — 8.9 earthquake, tsunami, dam burst, fires, and now the meltdown of three nuclear reactors.

Our heart-felt sympathy goes out to all Japanese people, among whom I count many friends. No nation deserves to be battered simultaneously like this by natural and (partly) man-made calamities.

Yet, few nations are better prepared and equipped to deal with such crises. Japan may be reeling right now, but things could have been far worse if not for their readiness to face emergencies both at individual and institutional levels.

Amidst scenes of utter destruction and dislocation, the Japanese people were reacting with the stoic calm for which Japan is famous. “What’s amazing is that everyone I saw — cops on their white bicycles, boys reading comics in alleys, kids walking home with their parents — appeared graceful under this unexpected disaster,” Tokyo resident Irie Otoko wrote to The New York Times.

But make no mistake: this is a big one as disasters come. The death toll is feared to exceed 10,000, and the property damage alone is likely to be tens of billions of dollars. The societal, economic and emotional costs are hard to quantify at this early stage.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was walking the streets of Tokyo, enjoying the calm and orderly life in the modern Roppongi and the old world charm of Kagurazaka. But once again, Planet Earth has reminded us who is in charge.

And cartoonists are capturing the planetary sentiment with their usual economy of words.

Cartoon by Terry Mosher, The Star, Toronoto, Canada

Cartoon by Gary Markstein, Copyright 2011 Creators Syndicate

Courtesy: Cartoon Movement