by NICK OTTENS
A devastating tsunami triggered by the biggest earthquake on record in Japan probably killed more than a thousand people along the country’s northeastern coast on Friday. A wall of water of up to thirty feet high swept across rice fields, engulfed towns, dragged houses onto highways, tossed cars and boats like toys, reaching as far as six miles inland in Miyagi Prefecture.
Thousands of residents were evacuated from an area around a nuclear plant north of Tokyo after fears of a radiation leak but officials said problems with the reactor’s cooling system were not at a critical level.
Underscoring grave concerns about the plant, the United States Air Force, which has three bases in Japan, delivered coolant to the facility, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Other nuclear plants and oil refineries were shut down while one refinery was shown ablaze on Japanese television. The intense fire in the waterfront area near Sendai could not be reached by firefighters because of the heat. An irrigation dam was reported broken in Fukushima Prefecture, north of the capital.
Auto plants and electronics factories closed while millions of homes and businesses were without electricity. Several airports, including Tokyo’s Narita, and all sea ports suspended operations while rail services halted. At least one bullet train carrying hundreds of passengers in the Miyagi region was missing
Japanese politicians pushed for an emergency budget to fund relief efforts after Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked them to “save the country.” Eight thousands troops were dispatched to aid in the recovery and the government asked the United States military for assistance. Several tens of thousands of American soldiers are stationed in Japan.
President Barack Obama told the Japanese prime minister that his country would assist in any way. Five US Navy ships were en route for Japan; two were already docked in the country. China announced that rescuers were standing by to help with quake relief.
Japan is already one of the most heavily indebted nations in the world. The long term effects of repeated short term government interventions in the private sector during the “lost decade” of the 1990s have resulted in a huge public debt that exceeds GDP twofold.
Trapped in low growth and a corrosive downward spiral of deflation, the economy has contracted significantly despite being one of the world’s largest. Last year, Japan experienced 5 percent negative growth.
As a result of its high standards of living, the country is also coping with a large aging population and mounting financial pressure on its public pension system.
Japan’s financial sector and infrastructure are well developed but remain subject to political interference. Last year, to prevent the soaring currency from impeding a fragile recovery, the government began to pursue an active monetary policy to protect the competitiveness of Japanese exports.