I'm not a morning person, but on Friday, March 11 I woke up fast when I heard the news announcer on the clock radio say something about a 9.0 earthquake in Japan, and a tsunami afterward, heading for the West coast where I live. The tsunami arrived a few hours later, around 8:00 a.m. PST, smashing boats together in Santa Cruz.
Since then, I've been following the news out of Japan as closely as I can, both because I've been writing about it for work and because I live in California. First, there were fears of another major earthquake on the West coast, at the other end of the Pacific plate. Then the worries shifted to the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors in Japan that were leaking radioactive materials, a scenario made more vivid by a somewhat misleading New York Times forecast of the jet stream whipping its way east from Japan. Stories about panicked Americans buying potassium iodide began to pop up in the media.
There's a certain myopia at work here, though. With Japan 5,000 miles away, for example, the radiation risk to the West coast is minimal. People in Japan are obviously much, much closer to the source. Furthermore, some of the daily aftershocks in Japan are bigger than some of the big earthquakes we've had out here, such as the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, a 6.9 on the Richter scale. Our troubles are small in comparison to Japan.
I worry about natural (and manmade) disasters as much as the next person. I've got my earthquake kit - I put it together long ago - and water bottles stashed around the house. But right now it's Japan that needs our help, and whose problems loom the largest.