More than 1,500 people are known to have lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on Friday. Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that the total number of confirmed deaths now stands at 1,596. Approximately 10,000 more people remain missing however leading to the bleak likelihood that the death toll with rise significantly.
Air services to and from Tokyo are returning to normal, however. Japan Airlines (JAL) cancelled 32 international services on Friday and Saturday, affecting more than 5,000 passengers. On Sunday however, just two international routes were cancelled, although many more domestic flights remain affected. There was widespread disruption on Friday as Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports closed following the massive 8.9-magntiude quake which caused buildings in the Japanese capital to sway for several minutes. Sendai airport however, located close to the earthquake’s epicenter, was completed flooded by the tsunami with TV pictures showing aircraft being washed away. The terminal building appears to be intact, but it could be a long time until the airport is able to reopen.
Most major Asia Pacific airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Qantas said that their services to Japan were operating according to normal schedules from Sunday. Having closed to both inbound and outgoing flights after the quake struck, Narita airport reopened later on Friday. By this time however, more than 13,000 people were left stranded at the airport, in addition to approximately 10,000 passengers at Haneda airport.
TDA’s Managing Director & Editor, Gary Marshall, was in Tokyo on Friday, and described the situation on the streets at the moment the quake hit. “Buildings are not supposed to swing back and forth without falling over but somehow; amazingly (in Tokyo) they stood tall. Power poles, traffic lights, power lines, trees alike were just whipping left to right; shaking violently. People screaming, running, others fixed in one position too frightened to move,” Marshall said.
Bloomberg on Saturday reported an Italian geological institute as the huge earthquake, which was estimated to be 8,000 times more powerful than the quake that devastated Christchurch recently, had shifted the Earth’s axis by about 10cm. The tectonic upheaval between the Pacific and North American plates split the seabed off Japan’s northeast coast for hundreds of kilometres, and are thought to have shifted Honshu Island nearly 2.5 metres west, closer to continental Asia. The resulting tsunami was reported to have claimed at least one life in Indonesia’s West Papua province and destroyed coastal homes in several Pacific Island nations.