As I write this, the Sydney Morning Herald reports on the exodus from Japan of Australians, along with growing numbers of European and Americans. From advising that US citizens not fly to Japan just yet (“do not add to the burden”), the State Department has dramatically adjusted its warnings, telling American citizens to get at least 50 miles away from the aged nuclear reactors at Fukushima (advice given by the US Army to its soldiers days ago, making me wonder why the State Department values non-military citizens below citizen-soldiers).
From the horrendous videos of the tsunami (literally, “harbor wave”) three to five times the height of the prepared-for waves, to pictures of desolation and survival, we are now – as the snow flies in Japan and food and heat are still hard to come by in shelters – faced as a global community with potential disaster that may make the initial waves seem insignificant.
Already, food prices are rising around the world. So are fuel costs. The rising price of food creates riots in Arab countries and worsens hunger in Africa. The US tends to have cheap food (we spend 10% of our wages on it, compared to near 70% in parts of Africa), but it, too, is hitting highs.
If a nuclear blow-up adds to those pressures, it won’t be just Japan that’s in trouble. Radiation sickness is well-known there because of World War II – just as known is that, while those who survived the Enola Gay bombs received compensatory payments from the Japanese government, they were also shunned by their neighbors. If winds spread radiation across the Pacific, Northern California will be hit with its own crisis.
Japanese shelters close to Fukushima are running low on food because truck drivers refuse to drive near the reactors, practicing their own version of shunning. Many of the tsunami survivors are elderly and do not drive – not that there’s any gas to be had now – so their own escape is difficult. Their children often live in bigger cities, so they cannot reach elderly parents because of tsunami debris clogging the roads.
Among the survivors being shuttled from one shelter to another, there is fatigue, confusion, and despair. Where will this end?
One man, perhaps too fond of his dog (which the local shelter refused to accept inside), is camping out in his ruined home, clad in four layers of clothing to combat the bitter cold. Building fires of kindling – piles of it surround his home, remnants of trees, children’s toys, window sashes – he vows to stay and reconstruct.
When the reactors seemed healthy, it made sense to rebuild nearby water-destroyed towns and villages. Yet now, when people are warned away and the Japanese government dithers, it may be more sensible, in cherry blossom time, to declare these towns lost.