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A Dispatch by a Fukushima Resident

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Imogen Crump Imogen Crump | 14:07 UK time, Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The damaged No. 4 unit of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant

The damaged No. 4 unit of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant

I've already posted on this blog about using Twitter in a time of disaster. Some of you agree it's a useful tool, others are a more dubious of its merits. As I mentioned earlier, when the earthquake hit Japan last Friday, one of the most reliable ways of talking to people directly affected was via Twitter. I had several ongoing conversations with people in Sendai and in Fukushima - Kymberly Fergusson (@NifwlSeirff) was one of them. She's still in Fukushima and I asked her whether she would be interested in writing a blog post for us about the ongoing situation there. She agreed. As Kym is a member of the public and not a staff member here at 5 live, I've switched off the comments for this blog. I hope you find Kym's post insightful and informative...

A head shot of Kymberly Fergusson


I'm writing this in Fukushima city in Fukushima prefecture, where it is still regularly shaking with aftershocks, both weak and strong.

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, I am currently an assistant English teacher at three junior high schools and multiple elementary schools in Fukushima city. My background is in computer science, technical writing and tertiary education.

I have spent 10 months in Japan, and had already experienced a mid-sized quake during a holiday here in 2008. I also had to evacuate during the 2009 Victorian bushfires in Australia.

But neither of those experiences come close to this earthquake and tsunami.

When the earthquake hit, I was returning from school after a graduation ceremony, and was on the train from Iizaka Onsen town. The initial earthquake lasted for about 5 minutes. People screamed as the train I was on was thrown about on the track.

In Fukushima: There used to be a 2 metre carpark under that building.

In Fukushima: There used to be a 2 metre carpark under that building.

After 10-15 minutes of constant shaking, we were told to leave the train as the power supply had been lost and the tracks would need to be checked. The aftershocks that started then continue even now, but most of the damage seems to be from that initial quake. Many roofs where I am have broken or missing tiles, building walls and boundary fences have fallen in or collapsed, shelves have fallen down and items are broken in all the shops. At least one building in Fukushima city collapsed, squashing the carpark area below it.

Phone lines (both mobile and landlines) were cut during the initial quake. Luckily I have had internet and electricity throughout, and the internet has been my main source of information. Twitter, Facebook and email have been essential for finding information, checking on friends/colleagues and reassuring family quickly and continuously. I'm also using USGS and tenki.jp to track aftershocks.

By the time I got back to my apartment, the power had been restored. I was very lucky. My apartment was not too badly damaged and no furniture had fallen. My friends' apartments suffered much more damage than mine.

Before the streamed news services like NHK had live English translations, I relied on several public and journalist twitterers, notably @makiwi, who tweeted many of the Japanese press conferences and news in English. I follow news sources that are not sensationalistic, and because of this I have been mostly avoiding Western media. Many journalists (including @ImogenJC) have been keeping track of information and twitterers in the region.

Overnight on Friday, the water supply in Fukushima city was cut. Drinking-water supply trucks were initially few and far between with long queues. But it's improved now since the National Defense Force arrived. The local convenience stores and supermarkets ran out of food by the end of Sunday, pharmacies are closed or empty, hospitals are accepting serious injuries and illnesses only, and I have been told that there is no fuel or kerosene at fuel stations.

When the Fukushima 1 and 2 nuclear plants started having problems, there was a lot of panic. Fukushima 1 is about 60km away from Fukushima city. A lot of hysterical and inaccurate information began circulating on the internet (some overly pessimistic and some overly optimistic). Almost no information was circulated within Japan in English, so I relied heavily on translators and non-sensationalistic journalists using Twitter and Google Translate.

When evacuation zones were established and then expanded, many of my friends, not feeling safe, evacuated to the west with limited fuel. Although most of the early information said everything was safe - no one feels safe. Especially with the evacuation and stay-indoor zones.

Although the evacuation zone is still 20km around Fukushima 1, and the stay-indoor zone is 30km, I watch radioactivity monitoring stations and keep my eye on several news sources. It's also been incredibly comforting to have friends and others reaching out to me via Twitter.

According a report I saw today, the radioactivity in Fukushima city was 21.4 microseiverts per hour - half that of one chest X-ray. Worrying, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano has often reassured the public that there is no immediate health risk. Having said that I am not comfortable spending unnecessary time outside - both because of the risk of experiencing aftershocks around unstable walls/power poles/buildings, and to limit any exposure. And I am not the only one who is worried. According to Fukushima governor Yuhei Sato, drivers are unwilling to enter Fukushima prefecture to re-supply unaffected areas.

Schools are currently evacuation centres, so there are no classes in Fukushima city at the moment. Despite the fact there's nothing to do (not even relief work), no water and the elevated risk being outside - my immediate supervisor requires the local English teachers to attend the administration office (a 20 minute walk).

In Fukushima city - and more so in coastal areas hit by the tsunami - the evacuation centres, hospitals and locals are running out of food, have little or no heating, no fuel and no running water. The ATMs are almost all out of cash and those in the 30km stay-inside zone are stranded, as traffic is stopped.

All the complaints from areas hit by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear evacuation are about supply problems. The hoarding of food and fuel in non-affected areas combined with the wintry weather is crippling the movement of necessary supplies and efforts of relief workers throughout Japan. It's worrying that if further evacuation is required, it seems the current supply problems are insurmountable.

The misinformation circulating on the internet and in media is complicating things further in Fukushima prefecture. As much as Twitter plays a vital role in broadcasting important information quickly, twitterers are also guilty of spreading misinformation.

Right now, I have a small supply of drinking water and food, power and access to the internet. I can keep on top of the situation, stay in touch with friends and family. My current plan is to stay indoors in Fukushima city and hope that the increasingly desperate supply situation is resolved quickly.

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