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Major Earthquake Strikes Japan in Latest String of Natural Disasters

Climate

A powerful earthquake rocked Hokkaido, Japan in the early hours on Thursday, triggering landslides, destroying roads and buildings and left the northern island's 5.3 million residents without power.

The 6.7-magnitude quake struck at 3:09 a.m. local time at a depth of 40 kilometers (24 miles), according to the Associated Press.


Meteorological agency officials told the public broadcaster NHK that the earthquake reached the maximum level on Japan's seismic intensity scale.

"We punched in seismic data from new locations to analyze today's earthquake. In the town of Atsuma, the earthquake measured 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale," Toshiyuki Matsumori of the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

A strong earthquake hit Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands, on Thursday.USGS

Five people are confirmed dead and another four people do not have vital signs. About 300 are injured and about 30 more are missing, NHK reported.

Video footage of the temblor's destructiveness shows collapsed buildings, buckled roads, landslides that exposed entire hillsides in the hard-hit town of Atsuma and vehicles submerged in mud. The quake also grounded flights and halted train and bus services.

Power has been restored for about 330,000 buildings but Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told NHK, "It will take more than a week to fully restore the power supply in Hokkaido."

The earthquake comes just days after Typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon in 25 years, hit Japan on Tuesday that caused widespread flooding, pushed an oil tanker into a major bridge, forced Kansai International Airport to close and stranding 3,000 travelers and killed at least 11 people, according to NHK.

The country also suffered from a summer of record-breaking heat that sent 70,000 people to hospitals and left 80 people dead, and historic flooding and mudslides that killed hundreds of people.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed condolences to victims of the earthquake. He has dispatched up to 25,000 troops and other personnel to help with rescue efforts.

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Jessica Kourkounis / Stringer

The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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