Yesterday, as I sat at my computer on the 3rd floor, I felt a strange shaking. There is a huge construction project happening across the street from my office and I thought that maybe it had something to do with that, but all I saw was a dump truck driving around the cleared lot and an excavator (thanks to my daughter I know what an excavator is) digging up some dirt. What’s more, people on the street were business as usual. Maybe it’s just me, I thought.
Turns out it was not just me. It was an earthquake. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake, to be exact, whose epicenter in Virginia is not all that far from my NC office. The quake was felt up the eastern seaboard, as far north as Maine. I imagine that closer to the center it was pretty scary- if for no other reason than we on the East Coast are lightweights when it comes to earthquakes. And certainly there was damage caused by this shaking: the National Cathedral in Washington DC will remain closed indefinitely, and buildings all around Mineral, VA (a town very closet to the epicenter) suffered considerable damage.
As this was covered in the nightly news, however, I couldn’t help think of Japan. The quake that struck off the coast of Japan this March was a 9.0 magnitude. Imagine it. Yes, people in the US yesterday lost their china, pictures fell from the walls, poorly constructed buildings and national monuments suffered damage; these things are important to the people that have experienced them, and they will take time and money to repair (if they can be repaired). But I want us all to keep things in perspective.
As of the last update, The National Police Agency has confirmed 15,719 deaths, 5,718 injured, and 4,616 people missingacross eighteen prefectures in Japan. The resulting Tsunami had waves of up to 40.5 metres (133 ft) high, traveled as far as 10 km (6 m) inland, and inundated a total area of approximately 561 km2 (271 m2). There were more than 900 aftershocks, 60 of which registered as >6.0 magnitude. And then there were the two nuclear power plant disasters- remember those? All told, early estimates placed insured losses from the earthquake alone at US$14.5 to $34.6 billion and the overall cost could exceed US$300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record.
The Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, “In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan.” Having just finished watching HBO’s miniseries The Pacific, this really hits home.
This is not to say that what we experienced here on the Eastern coast of the US was not notable, or that people have not suffered loss. But I’d like us to be honest about just how bad this really was. And I hope that the next time a disaster (like the one that hit Japan this spring) occurs, there will be a few more people willing to help the victims of such a terrible tragedy.