Today — Sunday afternoon in Japan — the crisis will pass through the much discussed 48 hour mark.
There have been more than 250 aftershocks, including 29 exceeding 6.0 on the Richter scale. The original earthquake has now been recalculated at 9.0 on the Richter.
The death toll is still unclear, but over 10,000 has emerged as a consensus estimate. According to Nikkei, “”We have no choice but to deal with the situation on the premise that it (the death toll) will undoubtedly be numbered in the ten thousands,” Naoto Takeuchi, head of the Miyagi prefectural police.”
The 350,000-450,000 evacuees (reports disagree on the number) generated by the earthquake and tsunami have been joined by at least 180,000 displaced by the threat of nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plants. NHK has learned that over 313,000 people were taking refuge at around 1,850 evacuation centers as of 8 PM Sunday. Last night the temperature was below freezing across northeastern Japan, similar night-time temperatures are forecast for the remainder of the week. A new cool front with rain, sometimes heavy, and snow showers is also forecast for tonight.
According to Yomiuri on Sunday, ”the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said that water supply was cut off in at least 1.4 million households in 16 prefectures.”
According to TEPCO, “about 270,000 households in the Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba areas were without power on Sunday, down from some 4 million immediately after the quake.” Other reports indicate that as of Sunday morning (Japan time) 1.4 million households nationwide are without electricity.
According to some estimates electric power generation capacity in Honshu (the principal Japanese island) is about 60 percent of normal. Planned brown-outs for a wide area — including Tokyo — are being announced for Monday, in an effort to avoid a more serious uncontrolled blackout. According to NHK, “Trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda says TEPCO’s current capacity is 31 million kilowatts per day, which is 10 million kilowatts short of the (typical) daily demand of 41 million kilowatts.”
Communications outages include 475,400 fiber-optic lines, 879,500 subscribed phone lines, and 11,400 cell towers and other base stations. In some cases the outage totals are climbing as telecoms get a better handle on the situation.
Fuel capacity has been cut by at least 20 percent. Several refineries have been closed or have cut-back on operations. For example, according to Reuters, “JX Holdings has declared force majeure on its refined product supplies as its stocks were depleted and distributions were disrupted. The company said it was working to boost output at its refineries that were still operating and diverting products to domestic use instead of exports to meet a supply shortfall.” Demand for fuel oil — especially Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (LSFO), used by power plants — is expected to surge to replace power capacity lost because of nuclear power shutdowns. Most East Asian LSFO is sourced from Brazil’s Petrobras, but some additional capacity may be possible from Indonesia.
Transportation into the impact zone continues to be seriously complicated by the earthquake/tsunami destruction of roads, bridges, ports ,and air fields.
Several news reports indicate surging demand for bottled water, food, and other essential supplies even in Tokyo and other cities outside the principal impact zone. Some of this reflects anxiety related to possible after-shocks and thereby on supply chain disruptions (see one story from the Wall Street Journal). This hoarding effect is disrupting some local supply capabilities. But so far food shortages are anecdotal and no systemic impact on capacity is anticipated. In an especially promising sign, late Sunday a large supermarket in Sendai, closest to the epicenter, reopened.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake all Japanese ports were closed to assess damage and mitigate consequences. Reports are mixed on when port operations will resume and at what capacity. According to the Wall Street Journal, “In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, some manufacturers and analysts have worried about the short-term drying up of orders from Japan as it wrestles with failed communications networks and the scope of the catastrophe. As plants across Japan slowed or shuttered operations, worry over supply-chain disruptions have also mounted. In the longer term, orders could increase as Japan ramps up imports related to rebuilding efforts.”
In an unprecedented step, 100,000 members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have joined the rescue effort.