Years ago these events were less personal. Sure they were reported in the newspapers for a few days, but with today's on site media coverage, the circumstances become frighteningly real. The terrifying footage from Japan comes into our living rooms and we find ourselves face to face with the people victimized by this tragedy. A young child who was happy and playing in his crib on March 10 is now being scanned for radiation poisoning by a space-suited technician, while his concerned mother looks on. Overworked doctors and nurses struggle to cope with hospitals overflowing with victims, wondering how much worse it will get if one of Japan's nuclear power plants lets go. Even TV reporters sent to cover this story are torn between doing their jobs and exposing themselves to unspeakable risks while their own families at home pray for their safe return.
Japan has experienced maybe 25 significant earthquakes in the past 100 years. Their government enforces strict standards for building construction, and businesses do all they can to protect computer data bases and equipment. The Japan Meteorological Agency developed an Early Earthquake Warning system that automatically calculates the focus and magnitude of the earthquake and estimates the seismic intensity for each location by detecting the preliminary tremors near its focus. Japanese citizens are thoroughly schooled about what to do when one of these early warnings is broadcast. Even with advanced technology however, the best the populace can hope for is up to 30 seconds advance warning, not enough to do much but get themselves to the sturdiest possible shelter and pray.
There are reports of Japanese citizens staging a mass exodus from the country and getting on a plane to anywhere to escape the consequences of a nuclear melt down. Their personal safety is the immediate concern and the future is something they can try to arrange when they are out of harm's way. I can't imagine what they must be feeling. I try to put myself in their shoes but the scenario just does not compute. I suppose that those lucky enough to be alive consider leaving all they know behind and relocating their families to be an option they are fortunate to have. I'm sure one of the questions that will be debated when the smoke clears is why did the Japanese build so many nuclear plants when the frequency of earthquakes in their country is so great? The short answer is that they have no coal or fossil fuels, and if they want to compete in an industrialized world, nuclear was risky, but the only realistic choice.
The Japanese are a resilient race as witnessed by their recovery from World War II and the devastation of the atomic bomb. Not only did they recover, but with help from the United States, developed into a modern, technologically superior world power. They have created glittering cities, giant corporations , and a healthy standard of living for their people, all the while respecting the ways and traditions of the past. I found myself callously thinking this morning what effect this earthquake would have on the stock market and my financial future until I remembered the dazed looks on the faces of people wandering the ruins looking for loved ones. This tragedy touched us all, and we can only hope that Japan will rise from such a devastating blow to become great once again.
What I'm left with in thinking how quickly things can change in the world is a determination to appreciate what I have in life...to hold my loved ones closer, to let the little things go, and to be less quick to judge. Life is too unpredictable to do otherwise.
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