Workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power complex in Japan were bracing for the arrival of super typhoon Lekima when they were told to evacuate ahead of an approaching tsunami generated by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake only 170 miles off shore. The quake hit at 2:10 a.m. Tokyo time Saturday Oct. 26.
Tokyo Electric Power Company operates the nuclear power complex about 160 miles northeast of the heavily populated area of Tokyo. The company reported it had ordered workers near the coast to evacuate inland and out of the potential flood area. Kyodo, a Japanese news service, reported there were no indications of trouble at the shuttered plant site. There are only 2 nuclear power plants remaining in operation in Japan today. The remainder of the country’s 50 reactors have been kept offline since another offshore earthquake in March of 2011 sent a crushing tsunami on shore at Fukushima, causing heavy damage to the multiple reactor plant site.
A satellite called TRMM is operated jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA. The TRMM date reveals the eye of Lekima is well developed and wind speeds are estimated to exceed 150 mph. In the heaviest bands near the center of the storm the rain is falling at more than five inches per hour. But the shore areas in the path of the storm are watching the 45 foot high waves currently pushing toward Iwo To (Iwo Jima).
But the one two punch of an earthquake followed by a super typhoon isn’t the whole story for Japan’s emergency preparation services. A second typhoon named Fransico is being predicted to possibly merge with Lekima just as it reaches landfall along the Fukushima shore.
According to NASA, its Terra satellite imagery indicates the two storms are beginning to shift from a northwesterly direction to a more north or northeasterly path. This is good news for the heavily populated southern regions near Tokyo but offers no comfort for the Fukushima area, still struggling to recover from the 2011 disaster.
The Japan Meteorological Agency interactive website tracking map indicates that even if the two storms don’t merge, they will almost certainly make landfall nearly concurrently.
If there is good news about all of this, it is that the earthquake hit far enough in advance of the predicted arrival of the typhoons that some workers could return the the shore area to brace for second and possibly third events. The original tsunami warnings which resulted in workers leaving the damaged nuclear site were mostly downgraded as waves of only about 3 feet high seemed to be the worst to be generated by the 6 mile deep quake. Japan Times reports that the quake being considered as an aftershock to the 2011 quake in the same general area.
The original magnitude rating of 6.8 was raised to 7.1 as more information came in from seismic centers around the world. But the quake was centered far enough off shore and deep enough under the ocean floor that it registered only an intensity of 4 on the Japanese scale of 7 in Fukushima. In Tokyo, the intensity of the recorded magnitude 3 is barely enough to be noticed by residents as accustomed to the ground shaking as many Californians.
So as Japan emergency service providers celebrate the near miss of the early Saturday quake, they must brace themselves for the potential double strike of twin storms, super typhoon Lekima and Fransico.
by Marcus Murray