published Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Tragic Japanese quake, tsunami

FREE PRESS EDITORIAL

The world watched in horror Friday as an offshore earthquake and resulting tsunami killed hundreds in Japan and threatened damage as far away as the Pacific coasts of North and South America.

Warnings were issued and evacuations were ordered along coastal areas stretching from Alaska to California.

While the loss of life in Japan was tragic, it is amazing that the extremely powerful quake and tsunami did not kill far more people.

The magnitude 8.9 earthquake generated a 23-foot tsunami that hit the eastern coast of Japan, sweeping miles inland and destroying homes and causing widespread fires and power outages. Early estimates put the death toll there at least in the hundreds, though it was likely to rise. Strong aftershocks were continuing in the region.

Then the tsunami sped across the Pacific at an astonishing 500 mph! It struck Hawaii, but with less force than it had hit Japan, so damage there was light. Residents of Hawaii and tourists visiting the state also benefited from having ample warning, so they were able to seek shelter before the waves arrived. The United States’ West Coast was also spared major damage.

The quake and tsunami stirred memories of the devastating 2004 tsunami that killed approximately 230,000 people in Far Eastern nations such as Indonesia and Thailand.

The Indian Ocean quake that caused that tsunami was stronger than even Friday’s powerful quake near Japan. That helps explain why so many more people died in the 2004 tsunami. Another reason for the vast difference in the death tolls is that many of Japan’s buildings are sturdier than those in some of the impoverished nations that were struck in 2004.

We lament the loss of life and the destruction of property caused by this latest quake and tsunami. But we give thanks that the destruction was not much worse.

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