Twitter Captures Japan Quake Horror

March 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our household first received news of the Japanese earthquake on Twitter about 7pm. There were tweets from a number of Japan-based Twitter people that it was shaking in Tokyo and buildings were swaying around. At first it didn’t seem as if there was much horror and there appeared not to be many injuries, perhaps a testament to the strength of Tokyo buildings.

A number of tweets from Beijing said that there was an earthquake in the Chinese capital. Some concluded that it was the same quake and if they felt it in Beijing, it must have been big in Japan. It was the pregnant moment when there is a growing realisation that this is going to be huge.

Then people in Tokyo started tweeting that they could see buildings on fire and some posted photos of plumes of smoke in the distance. Suddenly tweets about a tsunami warning began to multiply into a swarm and this phase morphed into real time news of a tsunami smashing into the Japan’s eastern coast near the port city of Sendai.

Soon there were tweets of links that were broadcasting a live stream on the internet. The first media outlet that caught the eye on Twitter was Al Jazeera which is having a stellar year as a news organisation with its coverage of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Al Jazeera was tweeting that it was screening live pictures on television and the internet of the wave of destruction. I checked Sky News and CNN and both were also screening the story live.

I then responded to a direct tweet from a newspaper reporter seeking New Zealanders living in Japan. I was able to help her find a friend in Abiko, near Tokyo, who had been tweeting the seriousness of the situation, but who had also included this gem: “Must be serious. Mother-in-law is wearing outside shoes IN THE HOUSE.”

But at this stage, both TV3 and TVOne had not broken from their regular Friday night scheduling. TV3 were screening Glee and TVOne had Masterchef. By flicking between them and Sky News, I just about got the moment TV3 gave up on Glee and caught up with the next big wave lined up to hit the coast.  TVOne may have been conflicted because of its sponsorship tie-ins with Masterchef. So while some of us were seeing the disaster unfold in real time moving pictures, some of us were watching a cooking show.

The tsunami images were horrific and breath-taking. The sting was not the 8.8 earthquake which certainly caused initial damage and injury but it was the destructive wall of water that followed, and which in all likelihood be found to be the main cause of the fatalities and injuries.

The story then quickly evolved into a trans-national one as people picked up on tweets that the US Geological Survey had issue a regional tsunami warning that the quake would also possibly affect countries around the western rim of the Pacific, including as west as Hawaii, and even as far south as New Zealand.

Around this time, Civil Defence in New Zealand revealed on Twitter it was having web update problems but were working on it. Later the organisation took to publishing its web updates on Google Docs. But in the meantime, its Twitter feed had proved timely and informative.

By mid-evening, TVOne got an interview with a spokesman for Civil Defence. He was asked by a reporter that some people had been asking if the Japanese urban search and rescue team that had been working in Christchurch was still in New Zealand.

I can only assume she had seen that question on Twitter because New Zealand tweeters had been asking that very question. I like to think that there is a collective feeling, in the wake of Christchurch, that we want to tell the Japanese people to take our Twitter love and sympathy. Because we know how it feels.

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