What it was like to be in Japan's worst-ever earthquake

The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake was Japan's worst of all time, leading to more than 15,000 deaths and meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. But all the footage I'd seen of it was of the subsequent tsunami and flooding that claimed most victims' lives. Here's high-definition footage of the earthquake itself, shot by a traveler in an airport. First, there's the shock and chaos of the quake; then the waters come. I didn't see anyone hurt in this footage, but it's terrifying all the same. Read the rest

Donations to help Puerto Ricans in wake of hurricane left to rot

I think we can safely say that the United States government's response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria was a rolling clusterfuck. Cronyism, red tape and terrible management practices on the part of FEMA, the National Guard and, in many cases, ill-equipped private contractors, turned what should have been a swift government controlled cleanup and restoration effort into a miserable quagmire. Many Puerto Ricans, a year after having their lives torn apart by hurricane-force winds and flooding, are still without permanent housing.

Difficult as it might be to believe, the ineptitude at every level of the government, both federal and territorial, has reached a new low. This past week, a large cache of donations--10 semi trailers full of medical supplies, diapers, food and water--that should have been handed out to Puerto Ricans in need of sustenance and other necessities, was found by an employee of Puerto Rican radio station Radio Isla. In a video taken by one of the radio station's employees, it's apparent that the supplies were left to rot.

According to Splinter, when the word got out that the rotting supplies had been found, the head of the National Guard for the region came up with an excuse for why the supplies had been left to ruin:

The Adjutant General of Puerto Rico, Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera, explained today that the merchandise stored in containers at the State Election Commission facilities, related to the collection center to help the victims of Hurricane Maria, will finish with its distribution in the next few days.

Read the rest

Japan's flood woes still have a long way to go

Amidst all the hubbub surrounding a trapped soccer team, Supreme Court nominations and idiot-Canadian music stars getting engaged to models, there’s not been much talk about what’s going on in Japan right now—and that’s a shame because it’s some very serious shit.

Torrential rains battered the Pacific island nation last week, causing landslides and flash floods which, at last count, had killed at least 127 people and have forced the evacuation of millions. Many of the displaced have been able to return to their homes, but things are still really fucked up. According to Reuters, just about all of homes that lost power as a result of the storms have been reconnected to the grid. But the people in storm-affected areas are still pretty fucked. Temperatures in city of Kurashiki, for example, which was hit particularly hard, are set to reach 91°F, with high humidity. They might have air-conditioning, in some cases, but very likely don’t have easy access to potable water. Some areas are able to have bottled water, medical supplies and food trucked in, but a lot of the roads in areas strike by mudslides are just gone.

The Japanese government has budgeted billions of bucks for cleaning up after disasters like this one, but it takes time to bring infrastructure back from the brink. What’s more, the worst may still be yet to come.

From Reuters:

A new evacuation order was issued on Tuesday in one part of the western prefecture of Hiroshima, after a river blocked by debris overflowed its banks.

Read the rest

NASA's got a computer model for predicting landslides

Landslides are bad news. In parts of the world where heavy, sustained rains can rapidly give way to flash flooding, they're responsible for tragic loses of life, property and transportation infrastructure. That the latter can wind up under hundreds of tons of mud and debris makes it far more difficult for first responders to do anything about the former--if you can get to people, you can't save them. Since we can't change the weather, we can't stop landslides. But NASA's churned out new tech that could make the difference between an evacuation and a recovery effort.

According to Space.com, NASA's got a hot new computer model designed to identify landslide hazards around the world, every 30 minutes:

Heavy, sustained rainfall is a key trigger of landslides around the globe. So Kirschbaum and co-author Thomas Stanley, a landslide expert with the Universities Space Research Association at NASA Goddard, built the new model using rainfall data gathered by the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite mission, which is run jointly by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The model also employs a "susceptibility map" to determine if areas getting hammered by rain are particularly landslide-prone — for example, if they lie on or near steep slopes and/or tectonic-plate boundaries, or have been subject to significant deforestation.

High-risk areas are identified in "nowcasts," which the new open-source model produces every 30 minutes.

Given the number of lives per year that this computer model's predictions could save, to call this news huge would be an understatement. Read the rest

Giant rock breaks off mountain and lands in road - captured on video

In this incredible video from Taiwan, you can see a very large rock break off the top of a mountain. A few seconds later it crashes into the road right in front of the car that was videoing it (using a dashcam). The rock is much larger than the cars.

Marc Laidlaw reports that a "Boy Scout leader was spotted in the area just prior." (Via Lyle Hopwood) Read the rest

Sixty-one years of tornadoes, in one map

John Nelson—the data visualization designer responsible for that global map of earthquakes I posted last week—has also made a strangely beautiful map showing every tornado to hit the U.S. between 1950 and 2011.

Part of what makes this map interesting is that it shows not only the touchdown location, but also the path of the tornado as it moved. Better yet, Nelson has several other related maps that break the data down in different ways. For instance, if you look at the tornado map broken down by seasonality, you can see a really amazing pattern, where what constitutes "Tornado Alley" appears to move northward over the course of the year. In December, January, and February, the bulk of tornadoes have been centered on south and south-central states like Mississippi, Texas and Kentucky. In peak tornado season—March, April, and May—the southern states are still affected, but the reach of the tornadoes has extended north and west. By June, July, and August, most of the tornado activity is happening in states like Michigan and Minnesota.

Another interesting thing I spotted on these maps: There's a hole in tornado activity centered on West Virginia. All around the state, there's a history of tornadoes. In the Mountain State, though, the number of tornadoes drops off precipitously. I'm really curious what's causing that, or whether it's a flaw in the data.

Compare tornado habits throughout the seasons

Compare tornado numbers by F-scale

Compare tornado history before and after the historically devastating 2011 season.

Watch an animation of tornadoes by year Read the rest