Authorities warn of a meltdown at a nuclear plant after Friday’s devastating earthquake. A huge rescue and relief operation gets underway to help thousands trapped and suffering from the impact of the worst quake and tsunami in the country’s history
TOKYO: More than 1,300 people are feared dead after the terrible tsunami that devastated northeast Japan on Friday, as authorities warned that a meltdown may be underway at a nuclear plant.
Reactor cooling systems are believed to have failed at two nuclear power plants in the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit yesterday, setting off a 33-foot high wave that swept through coastal cities and towns, taking away houses and vehicles, overturning ships and boats like toys and setting off fires, including one at a petrochemicals plant.
The two nuclear plants affected are the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants, located about 250 km northeast of Tokyo and Kyoda and Jiji news agencies reported that officials warned one of the plants "may be experiencing nuclear meltdown."
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from around the plants as Tokyo Electric Power, which runs the units, said it had released some radioactive vapour at both locations to relieve reactor pressure. "We are not in a situation in which residents face health damage," chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told journalists, according to Jiji.
The atomic emergency came as the country struggled to assess the full extent of the devastation caused by the tsunami, which was unleashed by the strongest quake ever recorded in Japan off the eastern coast. The government said it was still too early to grasp the full extent of damage or casualties.
According to police 413 people had been confirmed dead and 784 were missing, with 1,128 injured in the disaster, but media reports say the toll could be at least 1,300. "Unfortunately, we must be prepared for the number to rise greatly," Yukio Edano, who is the top spokesperson, said.
The wall of water tore through the city of Sendai, where police said 200-300 bodies had been found on the coast. The authorities said over 3,000 homes were destroyed or swept away. More than 200,000 people had been housed in emergency shelters, but the scale of those left homeless was believed to be much higher as proper figures were not available from across Miyagi prefecture, home to Sendai and the worst-affected in this disaster.
"What used to be residential areas were mostly swept away in many coastal areas and fires are still blazing there," Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan said after seeing the damage with his own eyes during a survey of the areas by helicopter.
Yesterday, the Bank of Japan said it would cut short a two-day policy review scheduled for next week to one day on Monday and it promised to do its utmost to ensure the stability of financial markets after the earthquake brought huge disruption to key industries. Major manufacturers including Toyota, Nissan and Sony were said to have suspended production at some sites, raising short-term concerns for the economy.
Japanese politicians pushed for an emergency budget to fund relief efforts after the prime minister asked them to "save the country", Kyodo reported. Japan is already the most heavily indebted major economy in the world, meaning any funding efforts would be closely scrutinised by financial markets.
The unfolding natural disaster, which has been followed by dozens of aftershocks, has prompted offers of search and rescue help from 50 countries. Early this morning a strong 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit the mountainous Niigata prefecture northwest of Tokyo, causing landslides and avalanches and destroying some wooden houses. The US Geological Survey said more than 100 aftershocks had hit the area.
Some 50,000 military and other rescue personnel are undertaking the Herculean rescue and recovery effort with many aircraft, ships and vehicles heading to the area, Kyodo reported.
Army helicopters airlifted people off the roof of an elementary school in Watari, Miyagi prefecture. In one of the worst-hit residential areas, people buried under rubble could be heard calling out for rescue, Kyodo reported. TV footage showed staff at one hospital waving banners with the words "FOOD" and "HELP" from a rooftop. The northeastern Japanese city of Kesennuma, with a population of 74,000, was hit by widespread fires and one-third of the city was under water.
More than eight million homes lost power, mobile and landline phone systems broke down and gas was cut to more than 300,000 homes, as a result many Japanese could not heat their dark homes during a tense, cold night.
In Tokyo, tens of thousands of office workers were stranded overnight after the quake shut down public transport. As the emergency response swung into action, the government urged people to stay near their workplaces rather than risk a long walk home as there was major disruption to air travel. Bullet train services, like the country's network of advanced nuclear power plants are designed to shut down as soon as the earth shakes in one of the world's most quake-prone countries.
In a rare piece of good news, a ship that was earlier reported missing was found swept out to sea and all 81 people aboard were airlifted to safety. But mostly the picture was one of utter devastation. Kyodo reported that contact had been lost with four trains in the coastal area.
Buildings, even in far away Tokyo, shook vigorously and TV footage from yesterday showed a torrent of water carrying cars and wrecked homes at high speed across farmland near Sendai, 300 km northeast of the country's. Ships were flung onto a wharf. Other images showed huge orange balls of flame rolling up into the night sky as fires raged around a petrochemical complex in Sendai. A massive blaze also engulfed an oil refinery near Tokyo.
Kyodo quoting the fire and disaster management agency said more than 80 fires were reported from Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Fukushima, Ibaradi, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures.
The earthquake, which hit at 2.46PM (0546 GMT/1116 IST) was the most powerful since Japan started keeping records 140 years ago and the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century. It surpassed the Great Kanto quake of 1 September 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area. The 1995 Kobe quake caused $100 billion in damage and was the most expensive natural disaster in history.
It lasted about two minutes, rattled buildings in greater Tokyo, the world's largest urban area and home to some 30 million people. Alerts were issued across the Pacific, including areas as far away as South America, the US west coast, Canada and Alaska.
But with small quakes felt every day somewhere in Japan, the country is one of the best prepared to deal with the aftermath of such a calamity. People take part in regular drills at schools and workplaces to prepare for a tremor on the scale of Friday's "super quake". "If there is any place in the world ready for a disaster of the scale and scope of this historic calamity, it is Japan," said Stacey White, senior research consultant at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Japan has prided itself on its speedy tsunami warning system, which has been upgraded several times since its inception in 1952, including after a 7.8 magnitude quake triggered a 30-metre high wave before a warning was given. The country has also built countless breakwaters and floodgates to protect ports and coastal areas, although it appears that they might not have been enough to prevent the kind of disaster that struck on Friday.
Japan sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire" and Tokyo is in one of its most dangerous areas, where three continental plates are slowly grinding against each other, building up enormous seismic pressure. The government has long warned of the likelihood that a devastating magnitude-eight quake will strike within the next 30 years in the Kanto plains, home to Tokyo's vast urban expanse.
The disaster struck as the world's third-largest economy had been showing signs of reviving from an economic contraction in the final quarter of last year, Reuters news agency reported. It raised the prospect of major disruptions for many key businesses and a massive repair bill running into tens of billions of dollars.
Markets to move sideways for two or three days before we see some direction
The market closed lower for the week ended 11th March, mainly on concerns over oil supplies due to continuing tension in West Asia and the possibility of an interest rate hike by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at its forthcoming policy review on Thursday. Easing food inflation end-February and higher industrial output figures for January did not help to change the outlook.
The market opened weak on Monday, due to political uncertainty over the DMK's threat to pull out its ministers from the Union Cabinet. As the air cleared in Delhi, stocks made good gains on Tuesday. The indices closed almost flat on Wednesday, with crude prices again fuelling uncertainty and this also contributed to the fall on Thursday.
On the last day of the week, the Sensex and the Nifty opened with a negative gap, following a sharp decline in US markets the day before and weakness in the Asian markets. News of the earthquake in Japan dragged the indices to their intra-day lows. From there onwards, however, the market recovered half its losses and in the end the Sensex closed at 18,174, a loss of 154 points, and the Nifty ended at 5,445, down 49 points.
Overall, the market closed the week down 2%, with the Sensex declining 312.36 points and the Nifty losing 93.30 points.
The major gainers on the Sensex during the week were ONGC (up 5%), Reliance Communications (up 3%), Wipro (up 2%), DLF and Reliance Industries (up 1% each). The top losers were Tata Steel (down 6%), BHEL, TCS, SBI and Maruti Suzuki (down 5% each).
In the sectoral space, BSE Realty and BSE Oil & Gas rose 1% each, while BSE Capital Goods and BSE Metal declined 3% each.
After a gap of nearly three months, food inflation eased to 9.52% for the week ended 26th February, from 10.39% in the previous week. The rate of price rise of food items has fallen to a single-digit figure for the first time since the week ended 4th December 2010, when it was 9.46%.
The decline in food inflation is expected to give the government some breathing space, as it has been severely criticised for not controlling inflationary pressure caused by high food and crude oil prices.
Deceleration in manufacturing and mining sectors pulled down the factory output growth rate to a meagre 3.7% in January, and this could prompt the RBI to take a re-look at its monetary tightening measures aimed at containing price rise. In January last year, industrial growth, measured in terms of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), was 16.8%. Meanwhile, the IIP for December 2010 has been revised upwards to 2.5% from the earlier 1.6%.
India's exports rose by 49.8% year-on-year to $23.6 billion in February on the back of increased demand from markets in North America, Asia and Africa. Imports rose by 21.2% to $31.7 billion, leaving a trade gap of $8.1 billion.
During April 2010-February 2011, the country's merchandise shipments grew by 31.4% to $208.2 billion, surpassing the export target of $200 billion for the entire fiscal 2010-11. During this period imports grew by 18% to $305.3 billion. The trade deficit for the 11-month period stood at $97.1 billion.
Concerned over the worsening political turmoil in West Asia and the impact of rising global crude oil prices on the economy, the finance ministry has suggested that the RBI focus on containing inflation.
The central bank has raised key policy rates seven times since March 2010, to tame inflation, which of late has started to decline. However, with the surge in global crude oil prices following political turmoil in West Asia, it is unlikely that inflation would continue to fall as predicted by policymakers.
India's per capita income increased by 14.5% during 2009-10 to Rs46,492, from Rs40,605 in 2008-09. As per the base year 2004-05, the per capita income in rural areas was Rs16,327, while in the urban areas it stood at Rs44,223.
On the international front, China reported a trade deficit of $7.3 billion in February, against expectations of a surplus, which the government attributed to the long holiday period for the Lunar New Year celebrations in February. Japan's gross domestic product fell at an annualised 1.3% in the December quarter, more than the 1.1% contraction reported last month. Also, the Bank of Korea hiked its benchmark base rate to 3% from 2.75%, for the second time in three months, in a bid to curb rising prices.
Meanwhile, forces loyal to Libyan president Maommar Ghadafi are reported to have tightened their grip on western Libya, where the country's key oil facilities are housed. Following the development, Western nations are considering all options to end the crisis, which has a bearing on the global economy.
The market has been weak, but there is still no panic. The direction will be clear in a few days.
The upward revised interest rate for the regular interest payment scheme is 10.47% for 36 months, 48 months and 60 months
Tamil Nadu Power Finance has revised the interest for its existing fixed deposit schemes. The upward revised interest rate for the regular interest payment scheme (RIPS) is 10.47% for 36 months, 48 months and 60 months. The interest is calculated annually. The interest rate for the RIPS scheme for senior citizens (age 58 years and above) is 10.50% p.a. (11.02%) for 36, 48 and 60 months. The rate of interest is calculated monthly. The revised interest rate for this cumulative interest payment scheme (CIPS) is 10% p.a. for 60 months. The interest rate for the Powerfin CIPS scheme for senior citizens is 10.50% p.a. for 60 months.