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Ichi sekai, ichi itami

One world, one pain

It was very early in the morning (near 1:30 a.m.) on Friday, 11 March 2011, when I found time to sit at my computer and begin reviewing the current news and examining the weather forecast before buckling down to the task of reading, rating and reviewing articles from my friends on StumbleUpon. Looking at the weather page, I was immediately struck by two words I’d dreaded ever since moving to Crescent City, California: “Tsunami warning.”

March 2011 tsunami devastates Japan

A March 2011 tsunami devastates the coast near Fukushima, Japan, nearly causing a nuclear meltdown and leaking radioactive
water into the ocean.
[ Image Source ]

Not long before, I read, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake had rocked Japan (as depicted in the photo above), setting off a tsunami that had left myriads dead or missing, wreaked unspeakable devastation — and left several nuclear reactors in danger of melting down. And the “harbor wave” (the English translation of the Japanese word “tsunami”) was on its way and expected to reach the California coast at about 7:15 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, with anticipated surges of up to seven and a half feet.

Starting soon after I read this, the eerie wailing of converted air-raid sirens filled the air. Since Crescent City is notoriously “receptive” to tsunamis — in fact, the city has never really recovered from the effects of a 21-foot surge in March of 1964 — we were not unaccustomed to this sound: There is a scheduled tsunami drill here the first Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m. But this was no drill, and the wailing went on for many hours, even as parishioners from low-lying areas began to take shelter in the megachurch across the street from our house; and, like most of our townsmen, we remained tuned in to the ongoing emergency simulcast on a local radio station.

Then, at 7:20, the fist of nature reached 5,000 miles across the Pacific and slammed into the harbor.

Crescent City Harbor after 2011 Japan tsunami.

Crescent City Harbor and boats in it sustained “significant damage,” although only one person died in the area.
[ Image Source ]

I am thankful. What came could easily have been far worse. Thankfully, the surge peaked at 8.5 feet, and only one person in Northern California died: a 25-year-old man who got caught up in a surge near the mouth of Klamath River a few miles to the south. Thankfully, homes were not destroyed this time. Thankfully, no one away from the water was ever in danger, and our townsmen got to go home early Friday evening. Thankfully, this was not the dreaded “Cascadian event”: the inevitable major local offshore quake that will one day inundate our streets and wash what remains of our economy out to sea, along with however many people can’t get out of the water’s reach in time.

Although the harbor on which so much of Crescent City’s livelihood depends was shattered, what happened here was in no sense comparable to the wilderness of desolation that was visited upon Japan.

But such events serve to remind us of something too often and too easily forgotten in too many contexts: Nothing happens in isolation. All the world (and infinitely beyond, if you care to analyze the nature of nature in such depth) is a single, vast, staggeringly complex web of interacting phenomena. Because there are so many of us, because we have filled every habitable zone of the earth, and because trade, diplomacy, war and communication link us all as we have never been linked before, we finally have begun to come to terms with this, to compose within our minds a sort of “Declaration of Interdependence.” For, because of all of these factors, there is not a significant event that can befall one place that does not have the potential to bring substantial consequences to other places, sometimes a hemisphere away; and when this happens, we have learned to help without begrudging, for we know that our turn may come next.

Japan’s nuclear plant may still melt down; if it does, radiation may drive millions out of Tokyo and could make itself felt in Alaska, in Hawaii, maybe even here. But even if it does not, such disasters will happen again, and because there are always more people in the danger zone, they will only become more lethal. Together, we form a part of a global ecology, and if part of that ecology is damaged, the effects will be felt throughout. And because we are joined by countless threads of every kind we can name and an infinitude that we cannot, no one suffers alone. This is a lesson I hope we’re prepared to learn.

Originally published as a review of a Daily Triplicate article on the local effects of the 11 March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Update: As of 5 May 2015,
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