Friday, March 11, 2011

International SOS Travel Advisory for Japan

Here's the current travel advisory for Japan from International SOS, the big global medical-evacuation and security services firm.

Special Advisory - Japan: Disruption continues following major earthquake as tsunami warning remains in place; authorities evacuate vicinity of nuclear plant (Revised 18.52 GMT)

A tsunami warning issued on 11 March by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) remains in place after high waves struck the coast of Miyagi prefecture (Tohoku region, Honshu island). The tsunami was produced by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake that at 14.46 (local time) struck 81 miles (130km) east of Sendai, the capital of Miyagi. At least 40 strong aftershocks measuring between 7.1 and 6.3 have been reported in the area. The JMA's tsunami warning applies to several prefectures, including Iwate, Miyagi, Hokkaido, Fukushima and Wakayama, where the authorities have evacuated more than 20,000 people. The authorities have stated that at least 350 people have been killed, around 500 are missing and more than 500 others have been injured. The authorities have deployed army personnel for rescue and relief operations.

The authorities have ordered the evacuation of local residents within a two-mile (3km) radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and residents within a two- to six-mile (3 to 10km) radius have been told to remain indoors. The International Atomic Energy Agency's Incident and Emergency Centre had earlier received a directive from Japan's Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency stating that a heightened state of alert had been declared at the power plant.

The capital Tokyo

Compared to the damage in the north-east of the country, local sources confirm that Tokyo is relatively unscathed. However, the tremor shook buildings and prompted the suspension of airport, overland and metro train services in the city, after a four-metre (13 foot) tsunami struck its coast. Train and underground metro services have since partially resumed, as have some bus services. In addition, significant traffic disruption continues on major roads, and authorities have closed several highways. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged commuters in the capital to spend the night in their offices to avoid further congestion. Despite this, local reports suggest that the city is choked with pedestrians making their way home from the city centre.


Fires have been reported in Sendai, which is believed to be the worst-hit area, while power supply has been disrupted in all parts of Miyagi, Iwate, and Akita prefectures, most of Yamagata prefecture, and part of Fujushima prefecture. Meanwhile, around 3.4m homes are without power in Kanto region (Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa prefectures). Fires have also been reported in Iwate, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Akita, Fukushima, Tochigi, Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa, while landslides have destroyed homes in Miyagi, where all expressways have been closed to traffic. A passenger train is missing in Miyagi, while a dam burst in Fukushima, washing away several residences.


The country's three main mobile telephone operators have reported disruption to their services in many areas, and landlines have also been affected; however, local sources indicate that internet services are normal.


Some outbound flights have reportedly resumed at Tokyo's Narita International Airport (NRT), while the city's Haneda Airport (HND) is accepting only arrivals. Operations have also been disrupted at Hanamaki Airport ( HNA) in Iwate, while Sendai Airport (SDJ) is closed due to inundation; airports serving Yamagata (GAJ) and Aomori (AOJ) prefecture are closed. Most international arrivals are being diverted to other airports; All Nippon Airways has cancelled more than 130 flights and diverted 24 others, while UK carriers British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have cancelled their flights to Tokyo for the day. The US-based United, Delta and American Airlines have announced that they will waive rebooking fees for their Japan services for at least one week.

Comment and Analysis

A clearer picture of the damage and disruption caused by the disaster will take several hours to emerge. However, air and overland travel, as well as essential services, such as telecommunications and electricity, are likely to remain subject to considerable disruption in the affected areas, as the authorities first undertake rescue work before directing resources towards repairing damaged infrastructure. In addition, further aftershocks are likely, and these have the potential to cause additional damage, thereby exacerbating the situation. Waves generated by further strong tremors could potentially spread and strike other islands in the region, inundating low-lying coastal areas and posing a serious threat to life and property. The move by the authorities to evacuate the area around the Fukushima Daiichi plant is a precautionary measure after the facility's power supply was cut, causing concern over its ability to cool its nuclear material.

Japan is prone to earthquakes and is situated on one of the world's most seismically active areas; nearly 20% of the world's temblors with a magnitude of six or above occur in the country. The JMA on 9 March issued brief tsunami advisories for Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the north-east of Honshu after an offshore earthquake measuring 7.2 on the moment magnitude scale occurred at around 11.45 on the same day in eastern Honshu and around 105 miles (169km) east of Sendai. This was followed by a 6.3-magnitude aftershock; though no casualties were reported, minor disruption to rail services was experienced in the four prefectures after the authorities temporarily halted trains as a precautionary measure. A 23-inch (60cm) tsunami on the day was reported in the port town of Ofunato (Iwate), while tremors shook buildings in Tokyo.

Travel Advice

* Account for all personnel.
* Avoid low-lying and coastal areas until the situation becomes clear and the tsunami warning is rescinded.
* Be aware that aftershocks may prompt further warnings and alerts and could pose a risk to life and property.
* Anticipate disruption to travel and essential services in earthquake-affected areas.
* Personnel scheduled to travel to, from or within the country are advised to contact their airline to reconfirm the status of flights before setting out.
* Monitor the local media and our website for further updates.
* Members can contact the International SOS Alarm Centre for additional health information.
* See the International SOS Medical Alerts for health related information.


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