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Japan's Big One

As a child growing up in California, I remember constantly being taught about earthquakes and earthquake preparedness in school; we would have disaster drills that consisted of taking cover under our desks then congregating on the open schoolyard, and were told what was suggested to keep at home in terms of an emergency kit and supplies. So well-trained were we that I remember on several occasions in middle and high school we would hear that rumbling hum that quakes often come with, and hear the windows rattle, causing us to dive under our desks-- only to find out that Vandenberg Air Force Base was just shooting a rocket into space. In the two large earthquakes I've been in, this "training" was of little use-- Northridge struck while we were sleeping with enough force to make me fall out of bed (and I was too disoriented and scared, being a young child and all, to remember to crawl under the bed), and the 2003 Central California quake hit on a morning I was doing last-minute Christmas shopping in a Wal Mart with really no where to take cover at all. So in the end I suppose the training was somewhat useless personally in those earthquakes, a 6.7 and 6.6 on the richter scale respectively. But it continues anyways, just in case it might do something to help when the "big one" comes off of the San Andreas.

Japan has had its big one now-- an 8.9, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded. To put that in perspective, it was 22 times more powerful than the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and equivalent to a 336 megaton underground explosion (the largest nuclear explosion was Tsar Bomba at 50 megatons of TNT). Of all nations in the world, Japan is absolutely the most prepared to deal with a natural disaster. In a precarious position on the Pacific Ring of Fire, surrounded by volcanos and earthquake faults, the wealthy and industrious nation has invested billions of dollars in preparing for disasters. Their building codes are the strictest in the world in terms of seismic safety, disaster drills are performed ad nauseam, and emergency kits exist everywhere you turn. Following the disastrous 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which set off a tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in 14 different countries, Japan joined the rest of the Pacific nations (America included) in installing advanced warning systems for tsunamis.

Despite all of the preparation, nothing can be done to prepare for something as unthinkable as an earthquake of that magnitude. They just do not happen near population centers. They are unstoppable forces of nature; acts of God that mortal men cannot withstand, no matter how much we try. The quake hit with unimaginable force, and the immediate tsunami hit without any time for the warning systems to respond. The images of the sheer destruction and awesome power of nature are a strong reminder of the fact that, for all we have accomplished technologically (and the genius Japanese have, in that area, excelled further than all others), we are ultimately powerless against the universe; fitting that last Wednesday many Christians were reminded that "from dust ye came and to dust ye shall return."

The United States, at the request of the Japanese government, has dispatched several warships, search and rescue teams, and FEMA recovery teams to help with the disaster. The tsunami warning system put into place after 2004 worked excellently; countries throughout the Pacific initiated the warnings immediately and authorities oversaw evacuations from the coasts of Hawaii and the Western US. The waves did eventually hit, striking the California coastline from Santa Cruz and Crescent City down to Santa Barbara and Ventura; about $50 million of damage was done, and one person was killed as he tried to take pictures of the tsunami in defiance of the warnings. Otherwise, shops were closed and the beaches remained relatively empty; people scrambled to take boats out of the water, and one US warship was moved safely out to sea. The damage, and death toll, would likely have been more severe. We will study this quake to see what could happen when we face a similar disaster. In the meantime, we pray for the Japanese people during this tragic time and express our sincerest condolences for the losses suffered. The good people of Japan are among our greatest allies in the world, and we will be by their side helping them recover from this act of God. We pray that they are able to confront the other terrible disasters facing them in the quake's aftermath.
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