Mighty Earthquake, Deadly Tsunami Hit Japan

Japan suffers its worst earthquake in 140 years, followed by a 10-meter high tsunami along its Pacific coast.

Japan earthquake - Tokyo skyline (Danny Choo)
Japan earthquake - Tokyo skyline (Danny Choo)
Tristan Vey

Forty dead, ten missing, collapsed roofs, floods and fires: these are the very first confirmed consequences of the violent earthquake that struck on Friday off the coast of northeastern Japan. The quake, one of the strongest in history, was followed by a large tsunami. And the toll of death and damage will only rise.

The Japanese government is doing its best to coordinate relief and rescue operations, "on the assumption that the earthquake did considerable damage," said government spokesman Yukio Edano. On the basis of television images, the death toll looks set to rise in the coming hours.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) measured a magnitude of 8.9 for the earthquake which struck at 2.46 pm local time in Japan. Such a magnitude is rare, and it makes the quake the most powerful to hit Japan in 140 years. According to USGS records, it is the fifth most powerful earthquake recorded worldwide since 1900. To put the data into perspective, the earthquake in Chile in March 2010 measured 8.8. The deadly earthquake which hit Haiti in January 2010 did not exceed a magnitude 7.3.

In Tokyo, some 380 kilometers from the epicentre, buildings were shaken for at least two minutes. journalist Silvere Boucher-Lambert, who was in the Tokyo subway at the time of the quake, described the scene.

"Hundreds of Japanese people spontaneously aligned themselves against walls and pillars with one hand on the wall," he said. "The buildings were evacuated calmly, even cheerfully, nursery staff formed cordons around toddlers wearing self-inflate helmets. Everyone stayed Zen."

From then on, there were "fairly regular" aftershocks but Boucher-Lambert did not witness "any panic". The most violent aftershock made buildings in the capital shake again around 3.05 pm. The USGS measured a magnitude of 6.4 for this tremor. Just after 9.00 pm, another tremor, slightly weaker but closer to Tokyo, once again terrified the city's inhabitants.

The quake triggered at least six fires, including one in the district of Odaiba, near the capital's port and another in a refinery town Iichihara in the Tokyo area. Narita airport was closed, as was the express rail from the capital to the north, state media said. The Kyodo news agency said that four million households were without electricity in Tokyo and its surroundings area. The Prime Minister Naoto Kan has assured the public that no radiation leak has been detected in the country's nuclear plants

A tsunami alert has been issued for much of the Pacific. Japanese television reported that a 4.2-meter high waves swept onto Japan's Pacific coast. The port city of Sendai, in the northeast Miyagi Prefecture, was the most affected. Television images showed a 10-meter high wave laden with boats and cars hitting the seafront and then flooding onto fields behind, leaving mountains of debris in its wake. The regional airport runway was also reportedly flooded.

A seven-meter tsunami was also reported later a little further south along the coast of the Fukushima prefecture. Japan had dispatched its naval vessels to the area, the Kyodo news agency reported. In the Iwate Prefecture, vehicles were seen floating in the harbor. The huge car park of the Tokyo Disney Resort (Disneyland) leisure complex in Chiba prefecture, just a few kilometers from the capital, was also under water.

Almost all the coasts of the Pacific are affected by the tsunami alert launched just after the earthquake. Japan, Russia, Indonesia, the Marianas and the Philippines are all at risk, says the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

"A quake of this power has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours," said the Center.

Read the original article in French

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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