Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seismic Event

As I'm sure all of you know, a massive earthquake hit Japan late last week.  I've received several emails from readers of this blog asking for news of our friends in Japan.  I am very relieved to say that everyone we know is well and safe if not exactly comfortable (no electricity, no running water and so on).  Andrew Edsall is fine - he sent a note via his blackberry right after the quake saying that he was OK and attempting to walk home since there were no trains.  Good Day Books lost some books off the shelves but Steve had the good sense not to be under them when they started coming down.  A note from some of my consultant friends said they ended up spending the night at work.  My elder Frenchling reported the same for the kids at the Lycee Franco-Japonais - they spent the night bedding down in the gymnasium.  Over the weekend everyone made it home safe and sound.

Update  23/3/2011:  For those of you who are looking for a way to show solidarity with Japan in this time of crisis, the American Red Cross and the British Red Cross sites have links where you can donate to support on-going disaster relief efforts there.

An earthquake is a most singular and terrifying experience.  From the moment you realize that the skyscraper is swaying ever so gently or that the ceiling of your house is starting to move (no, that is not the bus going past...) all you can do is find the safest place to ride it out and hope it isn't too intense or too long.  I've been asked by my friends from seismically inactive parts of the world why anyone in their right mind would live in an earthquake prone area.   The simplest answer, of course, is that some of us were born in such places - I'm from the Pacific Northwest of the US which has several faults and active volcanoes.  Another, perhaps more complex answer, is that we live in such places because we wish to, and the joy that we get from experiencing a place as beautiful and as culturally rich as Japan more than outweighs any fear of nature's wrath.

All human beings are players in the cosmic crap shoot of the universe.  No place on this planet is perfectly safe.  Nature will from time to time have her due.  But we are survivors.  We learn, we adapt and we go on.

From the Tao Te Ching (quoted in Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales)

One who is good at preserving life
does not avoid tigers and rhinoceroses
when he walks in the hills;
nor does he put on armor and take up weapons
when he enters battle.
The rhinoceros has no place to jab its horn,
The tiger has no place to fasten its claws,
Weapons have no place to admit their blades.
Now,
What is the reason for this?
Because on him there are no mortal spots.

3 comments:

Pascal said...

Hopefully you have received news from your friend who is safe.
But there is something I don’t understand about these tragic events:
Seismologists say they knew there is a big resistance in some points of the fault and someday the energy will be free with big damages.
The tectonics plate move at 8 centimeters per year at this point of the fault and according to the magnitude level (8.9), they estimate it moved 4 meters at once !
Everybody knows that an earth break undersea produces a tsunami.
So with both considerations, the eventuality of a giant tsunami was serious and real.

Why people continued to live after the earth break instead of the move rapidly inside the field ?

Another great lesson about the architecture in this area:

Wood home resists better to the earth break, not to the tsunami
Concrete home resist better to the tsunami, not to the earth break

As the tsunami follows the earth break, what kind of material to built (re-built) homes and offices ?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Looks like everyone we know is OK, Pascal.

From what I understand, time was a real factor here. Japan has excellent warning systems but the water came in too fast (the epicentre of the quake was too close) and people only had 15-30 minutes to get out.

Hard to know what lessons we will learn from this disaster but check out an excellent book called Normal Accidents by Charles Perrow. His thesis is that complex systems (natural or man-made) always fail eventually and catastophically in ways that we cannot predict. They are simply too complex for us to even begin to understand how they will behave under certain circumstances. He goes even farther by saying that any attempt to make these systems safer or to protect people from the consequences of failure only make it MORE likely that they will fail. Very interesting read - I highly recommend it.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

And to give you an idea of how fast the water rose check out this video passed along by a reader in Oregon:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpuLlIrUYsI&annotation_id=annotation_484959&feature=iv