« TOKYO – It took only minutes for the earthquake and tsunami to devastate Japan’s northeast. Rebuilding will take years – if it can be afforded.
The relentless wall of water that the quake unleashed killed thousands, swept away whole towns, inundated roads and knocked ports, oil refineries, steel plants and factories out of action.
Experts say the cost of the destruction likely exceeds that of the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake – estimated by Standard & Poor’s to have totaled $159 billion.
The four most severely affected prefectures (states) – Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki – are home to industries from farming to auto parts to electronics and make up some 6 percent of Japan’s economy.
Hundreds of thousands of people have spent five nights with little food, water or heating in near-freezing temperatures as they dealt with the loss of homes and loved ones.
The biggest port on the northeast coast, Sendai, has been destroyed. It handled mainly container shipments of exports including rubber and marine products, office machinery, paper goods and auto parts. Three others – Hachinohe, Ishinomaki and Onahama – were severely damaged and will likely be out of commission for months.
Six oil refineries that can turn 1.4 million barrels of oil a day into fuel – a third of Japan’s refining capacity – are shut down, two due to fires. An out of control blaze at one refinery is raging for a sixth day.
Steel plants have also been hit. »