News this morning is that the scale of the earthquake has been increased to 9. In any case it is the one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded (there was a 12.5 earthquake in the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, that created the Chicxulub crater). I have heard reports that it is the strongest, but according to the entry on Wikipedia, there have been a few stronger earthquakes more recently:
9.0 in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755
9.2 in Anchorage, Alaska, USA, in 1964
9.3 in the Indian Ocean in 2004
9.5 in Valdivia, Chile, in 1960
Maybe it's to do with its intensity. If anybody can shed any light on this, please leave a comment.
Last Friday's earthquake in Japan was 8,000 times stronger than the one that preceded it in Christchurch, New Zealand on 22 February, which created lots of damage and over 200 dead.
In Japan, thousands of people have been killed and thousands are still missing. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced because there is also a nuclear danger. The nuclear power stations were built to withstand seismic activity, but nothing of this magnitude. One nuclear reactor has exploded and another one is, as I write this, in danger of exploding. The radioactive material is no longer being cooled efficiently so it is in melt-down, bringing with it a huge risk to the population. People have been evacuated in a 20 km radius. But just imagine if you lived on the limit of that radius, at only 20 km from the nuclear site, where there have already been leaks equal to 100 times the maximum permitted level. Wouldn't you want to take your family as far away as possible? I know I would.
I am glad that the handful of Japanese citizens I know are safe and well, though shocked, but many, many more are are injured, homeless, have lost members of their families, have no home, no job, nothing. Whole cities have been wiped out. Just look at these before and after photos of Minamisanriku, a border town. The pictures say it all.
If you want to help, several charities are collecting money for aid and are easily searchable.