[This post originally appeared on the PhilanTopic blog. Continuing updates will be posted there.]
Update, March 15, 10:50 EST: It is 11:50 p.m. in Japan, and the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex has gone from bad to worse. Early this morning (Japan time), an explosion at the plant's No. 2 reactor -- the reactor Tokyo Electric Power officials had been most worried about -- "almost certainly damaged the reactor's containment vessel, raising the prospect of a full meltdown of the nuclear fuel inside," the New York Times reports. A few hours later, fire broke out at the plant's No. 4 reactor, which was being refurbished before the quake and tsunami struck. With the plant's cooling systems compromised by the quake, the fear now is that spent fuel rods in a cooling pond on the reactor's top floor could overheat and catch fire, releasing clouds of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Indeed, radiation levels in the immediate vicinity of the plant spiked after the most recent explosion at the complex (although they since appear to have fallen from their highest levels). According to experts, the worst-case scenario -- catastrophic failure of the cooling pond and a massive release of radiation into the atmosphere -- is days, if not weeks, away. Should the situation deteriorate further, however, one would expect to see mass evacuations of the surrounding region to begin.
The official death toll from the quake and tsunami now stands at 2,475. But with reports of thousands of bodies washing up on coastlines in Miyagi Prefecture and other hard-hit areas, it is almost certain to climb higher (maybe much higher) than the 10,000 figure cited by Japanese officials over the weekend. The Times reports that as many as 350,000 have been left homeless. On Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey revised its estimate of the quake's power from 8.9 to 9.0 on the Richter scale.
Uncertainty and the very real possibility of a full-scale meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi complex have rattled financial markets in Tokyo. The Nikkei, the Japanese equiavlent of the Dow Jones stock index, closed on Tuesday having suffered its worst two-day loss since 1987 and is down 20 percent since Friday.
Update, March 14, 4:30 EST: The New York Times is reporting that efforts to cool the core of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex failed late Monday (Japan time), increasing the odds of a partial or complete meltdown of the reactor's fuel rods, an explosion of the reactor's containment vessel, and/or "a potentially catastrophic release of dioactive material into the atmosphere." Over the weekend, officials of Tokyo Electric Power (which operates the complex) struggled to prevent a total meltdown of the station's No.1 and No. 3 reactors and for the moment seem to have succeeded, though not before the outer structures surrounding both reactors exploded (No. 1 on Saturday and a partial explosion of the structure housing reactor No.3 early Monday). Both reactor cores remain covered with seawater, and radiation levels around the plant are said to be close to normal. All eyes are now glued to events unfolding at the plant's No. 2 reactor....
Here's our original post from Sunday...
The violent 8.9-magnitude quake that struck Japan on Friday, triggering a massive tsunami that devastated large swaths of the country's northeast coast, has plunged the island nation into its worst crisis since World War II. While the number of confirmed deaths has climbed past 1,300, tens of thousands of residents of coastal villages in Miyagi prefecture, the area closest to the quake's epicenter, are unaccounted for, and Japanese authorities are fearful the final death toll could hit 10,000. Hundreds of thousands more are into their third day without water, heat, or electricity.
(Click here for incredible composite before-and-after satellite images of the region put together by the interactive graphics team at the New York Times.)
The mind-numbing devastation has been excerbated by damage to a handful of nuclear power plants north of Tokyo, resulting in what appears to be a partial meltdown of two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and cooling problems at four other reactors at two separate plants (New York Times). The grave situation has prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people from areas around the plants, and it is anyone's guess when the reactor cores will be brought under control -- or local residents allowed to return to their homes.
Over the last forty-eight hours, a number of mobile text campaigns have been launched to facilitate donations to quake and tsunami relief efforts:
- text JAPAN to 50555 to donate $10 (GlobalGiving)
- text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 (American Red Cross)
- text MERCY to 25283 to donate $10 (Mercy Corps)
- text JAPAN or QUAKE to 80888 to donate $10 (Salvation Army)
- text JAPAN or TSUNAMI to 20222 to donate $10 (Save the Children)
- text 4JAPAN or 4TSUNAMI to 20222 to donate $10 (World Vision)
(Joanne Fritz has a good post on her About.com blog about things to watch out for when texting a donation.)
Resource pages also have popped up on a number of Web sites:
- Causes Exchange (Facebook) has posted a list of organizations responding to the disaster;
- Charity Navigator has a list of twenty or so well-rated charities that are beginning to mount relief efforts and also offers a dozen or so "giving tips"
- the Chronicle of Philanthropy has posted its own list of organizations responding to the disaster;
- GiveWell has posted an excellent disaster relief page, complete with lessons learned from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and information/advice about why this disaster is different;
- Google has a good crisis response page, complete with maps, links to disaster message boards, and various real-time status updates;
- Northern California Grantmakers has posted a good Grantmakers Resources page; and
- Saundra Schimmelpfennig, who writes the blog Good Intentions Are Not Enough, has reposted her excellent Donor's Guide to Giving After a Disaster.
Donors and grantmakers considering a more substantive reponse will want to consider the advice on Schimmelpfennig's blog or the GiveWell site, and/or may want to browse the short checklist developed by the Raqim Foundation and Philanthropy Now.
It may be days, even weeks, before the enormity of what happened to Japan on Friday is apparent. While the country, one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced in the world, is in a better position to recover from this disaster than most, it's clear it will need -- and welcomes -- the help of the world community.
We'll continue to track developments as they unfold. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people.
(Photo credit: Kyodo / Xinhua Press-Corbis)