Mar 13, 2011

All Team Members Reported Safe After Sendai Earthquake

After the devastating earthquake in the Sendai area, we are relieved to report that all White Label Space team members in Japan have been contacted and are safe. Below is a message written by John Walker, who was in Sendai at the Tohoku University Space Robotics Lab when the quake struck. He describes his experiences of the disaster.

Our hearts go out to the tens of thousands of people who were more severely affected by this powerful and tragic natural disaster.

Message from John Walker;

Tohoku University Students and Staff at an Evacuation Zone
We are OK in Sendai, as is everyone I know here. Nathan and I were in the lab during the earthquake and Prof Yoshida was abroad.

They are already starting to restore power and water to the city of Sendai.

The earthquake itself was pretty scary but afterwards everything is very well organized; we waited outside after the earthquake and eventually were allowed to grab our stuff from the lab. We left quickly after an aftershock and possible gas leak. At my dorm we are staying together in a group.

Where I am located in the city I don't have running water or power but we are safe with lots of food and water.

Although the shaking was quite violent, there are no buildings in the city itself that collapsed and flooding was confined to the subway system as far as I know. We knew it was serious right away as it was the first time we heard the early warning detection alarm (3 seconds before) and it was impossible to stay standing.

It was much worse to the West where the ground is different and to the East where tsunamis hit. We weren't aware of how serious things were until we heard news reports.

In the city yesterday, restaurants were giving free food and people were in good spirits, although you can see smoke from fires near the coast and there are smaller fires reported in the city.

Local groups are also making rice and soup for people. Basically the same food we've been eating in our cafeteria, but it is served hot!

Convenience stores were open yesterday, where people patiently lined up in the dark to buy a couple of day's worth of food each. I got food there, and was also given food by the school, as well as flashlights and batteries. Today, as new convenience stores open, people are lined up outside.

Amazingly, a handful of stores and even two bars were by open the main station yesterday afternoon.

There are buildings designated as refuges where people in tall and evacuated buildings can stay.

The international news images are not from Sendai city, they are from surrounding areas. The aftershocks were quite large and frequent until yesterday morning but have subsided now.

The nuclear reactors are not posing a serious risk according to local media, and despite the recent explosion widespread fallout is not a risk for this type of plant and failure. The current evacuation radius is 30km. The total radiation output is 0.5mSv per hour and under control. Normal human absorption from background radiation is 3.5mSv per year. Even the worst-case-scenario is not a risk for short term exposure.

We are not sure when we can go back to the lab. Many experiments were damaged but our rover was OK when we left it.

Our plans to send a camera/mirror system to Europe for testing are snagged but we think we can still put together a similar system using parts we have.

It's possible to find power and Internet. Many business owners are helping people charge phones and laptops. I should be able to update occasionally directly and via friends (email is sporadically working on my phone).

I want to stress that we are OK and in a relatively safe place. As a precaution, Nathan may travel to Yamagata, and I may travel to Tokyo to stay with our friends.

Nathan and I are currently standing in line to for lunch and were able to pre-order dinner. We are going to investigate the possibility of bus travel today, and see if it is possible to retrieve the rover.

John Walker


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