Taming Chaos with a Personal Plan

By Scott Stewart

Over the past week we’ve seen a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan that caused a nuclear accident, the Saudis sending troops into Bahrain to quell civil unrest there and the government of Yemen taking measures to expel foreign media as protests have swelled against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

We have also recently seen large-scale evacuations of expatriates from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and it is not unreasonable to assume that we might see a similar exodus from Bahrain and Yemen if developments in those countries deteriorate. Moreover, in Japan, the risk of radiation and conditions that are not yet under control at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant could force further evacuations there.

In light of this uncertain environment, STRATFOR thought it prudent to address once again the topic of personal contingency planning. Indeed, we also made this topic the subject of this week’s  Above the Tearline video. While we have often discussed this topic in relation to terrorist attacks, its principles are also readily applicable to crises caused by natural disaster, war and civil unrest. When a crisis erupts, having an established personal contingency plan provides people with a head start and a set of tools that can help them avoid, or at least mitigate, the effects of the chaos and panic that accompany crisis events.


When Chaos Reigns

When a crisis erupts due to civil unrest, natural disaster or a major terrorist attack, a number of things happen rapidly and sometimes simultaneously. First, panic ensues as people attempt to flee the immediate scene of the disaster, usually seeking safety using the same escape routes. At the same time, police, fire and emergency medical units all attempt to respond to the scene, so there can be terrible traffic and pedestrian crowd-control problems. In the event of large civil disturbances, roads can also be clogged with protesters, troops and panicked civilians. This can be magnified by smoke and fire, which can reduce visibility, affect breathing and increase panic.

In many instances, an attack or natural disaster will cause damage to electrical lines, or the electricity will be cut off as a precautionary measure. Natural gas, water and sewer lines can be damaged, causing leaks, and in the case of natural gas lines raising the threat of explosions and fire. Earthquakes and mudslides can cut roads and shut down mass transit. Often, people find themselves trapped in subway tunnels or in high-rise buildings, and they are sometimes forced to escape through smoke-filled tunnels or stairwells. Depending on the incident, bridges, tunnels, subway lines and airports can be closed or jammed to a standstill. Grocery stores are frequently inundated by people scrambling (and sometimes fighting) to obtain food and supplies.

In the midst of this confusion and panic, telephone and cell-phone usage soars. Even if the main trunk lines and cell towers are not damaged by the event or otherwise affected by the loss of electricity, this huge spike in activity quickly overloads the exchanges and cell networks. This means the ripples of chaos and disruption roll outward from the scene of the crisis as people outside the immediate vicinity of the crisis zone hear about the situation via the media and wonder what has become of loved ones who were in or near the crisis zone.


The Need to Plan

Those caught in close proximity to such a disaster site have the best chance of escaping and reconnecting with loved ones if they have a personal contingency plan. While such planning is critically important for people who live and work overseas in high-threat locations, recent events have demonstrated that even people residing in places considered safe, like Cairo and Tokyo, can be caught in the vortex of a crisis. Taking this one step farther, sudden disasters, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, school shootings or the derailment of train cars carrying chlorine, can strike almost anywhere. This means that everyone should have a personal contingency plan.

Emergency plans are vital not only for corporations and for schools but also for families and individuals. Such plans should be in place for each regular location — home, work and school — that an individual frequents and should cover what that person will do and where he or she will go should an evacuation be necessary. This means establishing meeting points for family members who might be split up — and backup points in case the first or second point also is affected by the disaster.

When school-aged children are involved, parents need to take the time to coordinate with the school to learn what the school’s crisis plans are so any measures the school employs can be accounted for during the planning process. A crisis plan should also account for any pets a family may have.

The lack of ability to communicate with loved ones because of circuit overload or other phone-service problems can greatly enhance the sense of panic during a crisis — especially in this age, when people are so dependent on almost-constant communications via the ubiquitous smart phone. Perhaps one of the foremost benefits of having personal and family contingency plans in place is the reduction of stress that results from not being able to contact a loved one immediately. Knowing that everyone is following the plan frees each person to concentrate on the more pressing challenges presented by their personal evacuation. This is critical because someone who waits until he or she has contacted all loved ones before evacuating might not make it out.

It also is important to have a communications plan, which should include the contact information for the designated rallying site as well as an alternate communications hub outside of the area. It might be difficult to communicate from point A to point B, but someone at point A or B might be able to get through to a person at point C. For example, it may be impossible to call from Tripoli to New York, but both parties may be able to call through to Rome.

Alternative means of communication also should be included in the communications plan. If the phone lines and cell phones are clogged, many times text messages can still get through and Internet connections may work to send e-mail. Satellite telephones, though expensive, are also very useful in a communications blackout, as are two-way radios. Analog fax lines can also prove useful when other forms of communication are shut down.

People who are going to serve as communications hubs need to be briefed on the evacuation plan and have contact information (landline and cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc.) for each person who will be participating in the evacuation. The communications hub should also be provided with important personal data on each person, including full name, date of birth, passport numbers, etc. The communications plan also will be helpful in case one member of the family is unable to evacuate immediately or finds it unwise to evacuate at all. In that case, he or she will know where the rest of the family is going and how to contact them once communications are restored.

Planning is important because, when confronted with a dire situation, many people simply do not know what to do or where to start. It is not unusual to find people wandering aimlessly at the scene of a disaster. Not having determined their options in advance — and in state of shock over the events of the day — people quite often find themselves unable to think clearly enough to establish a logical plan, so they just drift around or collapse in helplessness. Having a plan in place gives even a person who is in shock or denial and unable to think clearly a framework to lean on and a path to follow.



One of the keys to surviving a catastrophe is situational awareness. Situational awareness allows people to recognizing a potential threat at an early stage and take measures to avoid it. Situational awareness also helps people know where to go when an unforeseen disaster strikes. For example, if the airport is closed by the crisis, situational awareness enables one to understand the alternate means of leaving the country, and if a bridge is damaged on an alternative land route, you can locate another way out. Being aware of the layouts of your residence and workplace is also critical. If an office building is hit by an incident of workplace violence or catches fire, people with a plan will know where the fire exits are and where they lead. Situational awareness will then help them realize when an exit could lead them out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Situational awareness also aids in reacting to a dangerous situation while on the move. If a subway tunnel is filling with smoke from a fire or bombing, situational awareness tells one to keep low in order to avoid being overcome by smoke. Better still, proper preparation can lead people to carry important items such as a smoke hood that can be worn to protect against smoke and a flashlight to help navigate a dark place like a tunnel.

For individuals who work in high-rise buildings, frequently travel or routinely take a commuter train or subway, these two items can greatly assist you if the need to evacuate arises. Smoke hoods are relatively inexpensive devices that can be carried in a briefcase or purse and quickly donned in case of emergency. They will usually provide around 20 to 30 minutes of breathing time, which could quite literally mean the difference between life and death in a smoke-filled hallway, stairway or subway tunnel. Likewise, a small flashlight could prove to be invaluable in a crisis situation at night or when the power goes out in a large building or subway. Some of the small aluminum flashlights can also double as a handy self-defense weapon.

Of course, in some situations, evacuation might not be the best idea. If there is no immediate threat at a specific location, it may be more dangerous to join a crowd of panicked people on the street. In some cases, it might be safest to just stay in place and wait for order to return — especially if the shelter is stocked with food, water and other basic necessities. Situational awareness will allow you to make the call on whether to stay or go.

As part of a contingency plan, it is also prudent to prepare a small “fly-away” kit containing clothes, water, a first-aid kit, nutritional bars, medications and toiletry items for each member of the family. It also is a good idea to include a battery-powered or crank-powered radio and other items such as appropriate maps, multi-tool knives and duct tape. An appropriate amount of cash can also prove quite useful. The kit should be kept in a convenient place, ready to grab on the way out. Even if it is impractical to keep all these items in constant readiness, keeping most of them together and using a prepared list to collect the other items quickly can help get one out the door in seconds. Maintaining important papers, such as vehicle titles, deeds, licenses, birth certificates, passports and credit card information, in a central file allows it to be quickly retrieved in case of an evacuation. Of course, passports are of vital importance in an overseas situation.

Another important part of situational awareness is having the means to receive instructions and information from the authorities. In addition to radio and television, many locations have emergency text and e-mail alert systems that can provide critical information. Overseas, embassies also maintain networks for disseminating information to expatriates such as the U.S. Department of State’s warden system. Individuals should register for such services and ensure they know how information is disseminated before the crisis hits and results in communication disruptions.

When it comes to information pertaining to emergency plans and fly-away kits, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration’s ready.gov site is an excellent resource. For people residing overseas, the U.S. Department of State’s travel information site and the Overseas Security Advisory Council are also valuable resources filled with helpful information.

Now, while it is important to listen to authorities in the case of an emergency, individuals cannot rely on the government to take care of them in every situation because the resources simply may not be available. This means that individuals must have a plan in place designed to take care of themselves and their families.


Flexibility Required

In order to be effective, an emergency plan must be fluid and flexible. It is important to recognize that even a good plan can be worthless if reactive measures taken by authorities during an emergency impede execution of the plan, or if the catastrophe itself closes down the airport or a section of a primary escape route. For these reasons, it is best to have several alternate contingency plans that account for multiple scenarios and include various routes and modes of evacuation. Once the emergency is announced, it likely is too late to start devising a back-up plan.

Plans must be also reviewed periodically, at least once a year. A plan made following 9/11 might no longer be valid. Bridges and roads included in the original plan might be closed for construction at the present time or could have been changed to a one-way traffic pattern. Communication plans may also need to be updated if family members move or change telephone numbers.

The contents of fly-away kits should be checked periodically to ensure the kits are functional. Flashlight and radio batteries can lose their charge and need to be replaced. Items such as smoke hoods can become damaged by being carried around in a purse or briefcase for too many years. Food can become stale and inedible. Medications can expire. Children can grow and require different sizes of clothing.

Finally, while having a contingency plan on paper is better than having nothing, those plans that are tested in the real world prove to be far superior to plans that are never tested. Running through an evacuation plan (especially during a high-traffic time such as rush hour) will help to identify weaknesses that will not appear on paper. It also will help ensure that all those involved know what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to go. A plan is of limited use if half of the people it is designed for do not understand their respective roles and responsibilities.

No plan is perfect, and chances are that individuals will find themselves “shifting on the fly” as conditions on the ground change in the event of an actual emergency. However, having a plan and being prepared allows a person to be more focused and less panicked and confused than those who have left their fate to chance.
Taming Chaos with a Personal Plan is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”

What to put in an earthquake survival kit

Last night, in the wake of the news surrounding the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and with the realization that a Big One in Manila is imminent, my husband and I started discussing what we would put in our own earthquake survival kit.

Our initial list consisted of the following:

  • Phones and phone chargers
  • Laptops, laptop chargers, external hard drive that contains seven years’ worth of memories
  • Copies of important documents (birth and marriage certificates, passports)
  • Checkbook (just so it’s secure)
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Changes of clothes and basic toilettries
  • Drinking water
  • Crackers and some canned goods
  • Alcohol and insect repellent
  • Paper, pens, Swiss knife and basic tools

We didn’t get to finish our list, but other online resources showed that following should also be included in an earthquake survival kit:

  • Can opener – Of course, to open the canned goods (Why didn’t I think of that?)
  • Money – Another “of course” (although I had already assumed that my wallet and organizers would be in my bag
  • First-aid kit
  • Blankets
  • Grill or camp stove
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Water should be at least three days’ worth
  • Water purification tablets
  • Wrench – To switch off water and gas supply at home
  • Disinfectant (like chlorine)
  • Heavy-duty gloves
  • Gas/dust mask
  • Trash bags
  • Portable (or solar-powered) radio
  • Photos of family members – in case people go missing and you need references to locate them


70 cm Tsunami hits Philippines (update-5)

After a massive and devastating 8.9 magnitude Earthquake that struck Northeastern Japan, tsunami warnings were issued across the Pacific Ocean, including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Russia.  Countries as far away as Indonesia, Australia, Chile and New Zealand were issued tsunami warnings.  To the east of the Pacific Ocean, the entire West Coast of the United States and Canada were likewise given tsunami warnings, and damage to ports along the West Coast were substantial.

In the Philippines, tsunami watch went into effect.  The Philippine Vulcanology and Seismology Agency raised tsunami alert to level 2.  The military and disaster response teams went evacuate people from Northern and Eastern Philippine coastline.  The island of Batanes, the northern coast of Ilocos Norte, Cagayan province, Isabela, Aurora, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur,  Albay, Catanduanes, Northern and Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Lyte, Surigao Norte, Surigao Sur, Davao Oriental, and Davao del Sur were areas the tsunami were projected to strike.

The first wave to hit the Philippines wasn’t much of anything.  At 6pm local time, San Vicente Cagayan took a 0.60 meters wave. On its third wave, at 7:55 pm local time, Virac, Catanduanes received the highest wave the country would receive from the Japanese Tsunami and it was recorded to be 0.7 meters  high.

Below were raw updates posted as the events transpired.


Philippine government preparations so far.

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Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology


2011 March 11 8:00 PM

Earthquake near East Coast of Japan at about 1:46 PM on 11 March 2011


At about 1:46 PM of 11 March 2011 (Philippine Time), an earthquake of magnitude M 8.8 occurred Near East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of about 10km. Related to this earthquake, sea level readings confirm that a tsunami was generated which could reach the Philippines. PHIVOLCS Tsunami Alert Level 2 was raised in areas along the east coast of the Philippines. People in threatened communities were advised to go farther inland since these areas are expected to be affected by the first tsunami waves from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM 11 March 2011 Philippine time. These waves may continue for hours.

The observed sea-level data associated with the earthquake-induced tsunami is shown in the following table. Sea-level changes may persist along the Pacific coast.

Station Name Maximum Wave Height (in meters) Arrival Time (Philippine Time)
San Vicente, Cagayan, PHILIPPINES 1st wave 0.60 m 06:00 pm
2nd wave 0.60 m 06:20 PM
3rd wave 0.40 m 06:50 pm
4th wave 0.40 m 07:30 pm
Virac, Catanduanes, PHILIPPINES 1st wave 0.40 m 06:30 pm
2nd wave 0.60 m 07:10 pm
3rd wave 0.70 m 07:50 pm
Baler, Aurora, PHILIPPINES 1st wave 0.40 m 06:30 pm
2nd wave 0.40 m 07:10 pm
3rd wave 0.30 m 08:00 pm
PHIVOLCS will provide tsunami sea-level updates as soon as the new information becomes available.


source: gov.ph

Update-4: NDRRMC reported that no lives lost and no damage to property.

Update-3: Tsunami created by the 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan has reached the Philippines. Highest wave recorded so far is in Virac, Catanduanes, 70cm.

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Update-2: Phivocs says tsunami to hit PH around 1 meter (3 feet).
Also ABS-CBN has launched a tsunami hotline: (+63 2) 411-0011 or (+63 2) 411 0012.
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Pacific Tsunami warning map.  NOAA Tsunami preparedness guide.  Tsunami alert for Philippines now at level 2.

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GMA News 7:

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised Tsunami Alert Level 1, meaning a tsunami caused by the Japan quake may reach the Philippines.  Phivolcs director Renato Solidum Jr. said in an interview on dzBB radio the areas in the eastern coastline include:

  • Batanes Island
  • Cagayan
  • Ilocos Norte
  • Isabela
  • Quezon
  • Aurora
  • Camarines Norte
  • Camarines Sur
  • Albay
  • Catanduanes
  • Sorsogon
  • Northern Samar
  • Eastern Samar
  • Leyte
  • Northern Leyte
  • Surigao del Norte
  • Surigao del Sur
  • Davao Oriental
  • Davao del Sur
  • Walang evacuation order pero dapat maghanda ang komunidad sa eastern coastline ng ating bansa at maghintay ng additional information kung sakaling magkakaroon ng evacuation,” Solidum said in an interview on dzBB radio.
  • s.

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    Millions saved in Japan by good engineering, and government codes

    An 8.9 Earthquake rocked Japan on Friday afternoon. It was the fifth largest earthquake since 1900. Massive damage across much of the country as fires, floods and damage take its toll. Tsunami warnings were raised around the Pacific ocean as countries from Russia, Canada, the United States, Taiwan, Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Chile and even as far as New Zealand have been put on alert.

    The largest earthquake in Japanese history struck the island nation at mid afternoon on a spring day. Skyscrapers moved. Fire struck in various parts of the country. People rushed out of office buildings, and people cleared airports. Japan’s nuclear plants went on automatic shutdown.

    Half an hour later, tweets on Japan would clock at 1,200 tweets per minute. Photos of burning buildings soon found their way to the web. Links to live streams pop’d out of the web.

    At Miyagi prefecture, the closest to the epicenter, a tsunami struck dealing a devastating second punch. On television, video would catch a 10 meter wave slam hard on the Japanese coastline. It was surreal watching cars, boats and planes swept aside like toys. Houses fell like lego buildings being cleaned up by a broom. It was as if some invisible hand was done playing with it. It was like watching a disaster movie, only this time lives were surely lost.

    Images of the tragedy filled the web, just as alerts rang out across the planet. 7.9 magnitude was the first report. Minutes later 8.8. No. It would be 8.9. The United States Geological Survey would alter reveal that the Japanese Earthquake would be 900 times as powerful as the Earthquake San Francisco experienced in 1989. And as powerful as the earthquake that struck Chile in 2010.

    The Japanese coast had moved 2.4 meters, permanently.

    Tsunami alarms raced across the nations around the Pacific. Russia was the first to evacuate their citizens. Taiwan. The Philippines. Guam. Down under in Australia, and New Zealand alerts were raised. North America was not spared. Hawaii was quickly put on notice to prepare for a tsunami. As far as the Great White North of Canada, and along the North American coastline of California, Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, evacuation orders were called. South America’s Chile also received tsunami warnings and as far as Africa, alerts were raised.

    The Earth’s axis shifted ten inches.

    It is a testament to Japanese engineering that its buildings stood up to the Earthquake, and the 100+ greater than 5.0 magnitude aftershocks that have since occurred. The Japanese have lived with Earthquakes, and their attention to Japanese earthquake engineering, together with training on how to respond to such tragedies must have saved countless millions of lives. That isn’t to say the devastation is no less heartbreaking and staggering. It is to say, it could have been far worst than images of cars, boats and small aircraft being swept aside by the onslaught of water. It could be far worst to see airports underwater, or houses swept aside like an invisible hand done with playing with toys.

    Remarkably, Internet didn’t fail. Friends and family from around the world, worried for their loved ones, though unable to reach them via phone, were able to get in touch with them via social networking sites, and via the Internet.

    The death toll is still up in the air as the Japanese pick up the pieces of their shattered nation.

    Japanese authorities now say that there is a high possibility of a meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor as a perfect storm of system catastrophes seem to push it to the edge. The fallout not just from the radiation, could affect the nuclear reactor manufacturers for decades to come, and could seriously hinder nuclear reactor development.

    Now the world watches, and waits, as the Japanese people pickup the pieces of their lives. We will not know the extent of the damage for days to come. What’s clear is that millions were saved by the Japanese engineering prowess, and government codes as well as a lifetime in earthquake training and preparedness. A far less prepared, less wealthy nation would grind to a halt. Victory is in the preparation. For Japan, it saved a lot of lives.

    Photo credit: Japanese woman, via @jimparedes and @thomaselden0709

    Photos: Kyoto via Reuters/AP

    # # #

    What follows is the original live blog of the events of the Japanese earthquake as it unfolded.

    update-30: Tsunami warning lifted in the Philippines.

    White House Chief of Staff Daley says tsunami fears on Hawaii, California seem to have passed.

    update-29: 2 to 5 feet tsunami projected to hit Californian coast according to SFGate. Beaches closed.

    Update-28: BBC is reporting on the official Kyodo news agency is reporting that about 88,000 people are missing.

    BBC also noted that “Houses and other buildings are also ablaze across large swathes of land in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai, footage broadcast by Japanese TV shows. The city has a population of 74,000.”


    Kyodo quoting Fukushima-ken officials saying enough water is avail to cover fuel rods at troubled nuke plant, averting feared meltdown.”

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    “‘Not going to be a major damaging event, but there’s going to be scattered damage,’ says Pacific Tsunami Warning Center about Hawaii”

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    Update-25: Japanese defense force ordered to fly to Kyodo nuclear plant.

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    A passenger train went mssing as tsunami hit Japan.

    Update-24: Miyagi Police say they have found 200 to 300 bodies found at coastal area in Sendai city -Kyodo.

    Update-23: Six foot waves predicted for Hawaii as Tsunami passes through.

    Update-22: Kyodo residents asked to evacuate as cooling functions in Fukushima nuclear plant are not working.

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    Reuters say Crescent City likely to see largest tsunami — California Emergency Agency.
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    Guam lifts tsunami alert.


    Live Stream from Hawaii as Tsunami reach those islands.

    Queen of England issues statement. “Is saddened by that tragic loos of life caused by the Earthquake which has struck North East Japan today. Prince Philip joins me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to Your Majesty and the people of Japan.”

    Update-20: Live images from Japan.

    Here are some Japanese quake images:

    and another one:

    via this pic.

    Update-19: Live Webcams around Tokyo.

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    Update-18: The BBC Reports that japan has declared an emergency situation at a nuclear plant as cooler is not working but no radioactive leakage reported so far.

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    Update-16: Tsunami hits Taiwan, no major impact.

    [blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/felix85/status/46151560736149505″]

    Fires from Sendai Airport in Japan:

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    Update-15: Taiwan monitors for Tsunami:

    Update-14: Japanese Earthquake today, is 7th5th most powerful earthquake since 1900.

    Update-13: Japanese Nuclear plants closest to Earthquake epicenter shut down properly.

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    Update-12: Japanese death toll now at 23:

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    Update-11 More footage from Japan:

    via lafordia123 on youtube

    Update-10: Google launches person finder for Japan Earthquake

    Japan Hit By Tsunami 2011 Aerial View_telugutouch.com

    via touchversion on youtube

    Update-9: Map of Areas in Philippines where Tsunami is likely to hit.
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    Update-8: Live Stream via NHK on Japan earthquake. Subway and train services suspended. Flights to japan suspended. If you’re trying to reach friends and relatives in Japan, but can’t because phones are down, try Facebook, and social networks.

    Update-7: Tweet-o-Meter registered 1,200 tweets per minute on Japanese earthquake news, this less than half an hour as the quake knocked out Japan’s phone system.

    Update 6: Japan PM says damage is widespread. Nuclear plants have automatically shutdown. Tsunami have reached 150 kilometers in land.

    Update-5: USGS has updated their data to say that Japan was hit by an 8.8 Earthquake.  Images coming from Japan show buildings burning in Tokyo.

    Japan Earthquake: Large fire at Odaiba port in Japan:

    video by ProducerMatthew on Youtube.

    Tsunami images:

    BreakingNews quoted a Japanese agency saying Earthquake is a magnitue 7.9.  The agency added that a 10 foot Tsunami warning is now in place.

    United States Geological Survey (USGS) concurrently says that it was a 7.9 earthquake. It was located near the east coast of Honshu, Japan.  It is 382 kilometers from Tokyo.

    Update-2: According to Reuters Flash, a 0.5 meter Tsunami has hit Northeastern Japan.

    Update-3: The Pacific Tsunami Warning center lists the following countries and territories on Tsunami alert:

    “Japan, Russia, Marcus Is., N. Marianas A Tsunami Watch is in Effect For Guam, Wake Is., Taiwan, Yap, Philippines, Marshall Is., Belau, Midway Is., Pohnpei, Chuuk, Kosrae, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Hawaii.”


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