Monday, November 22, 2010

Wireless to the Rescue

interesting nostalgic piece from our friends at AWR

The Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan

it was in the morning of Saturday September 1, 1923, just on 87 years ago, that a most devastating earthquake struck the Japanese main island in the Yokohama area. The main shock measured at an almost all time high of 8.2 on the Richter Scale, and it was followed by at least 600 after shocks. It is estimated that a 1/3rd million people died in the earthquake and the subsequent tsunamis and the resultant fires.
On land, a forest on the slopes of Mt. Tanzawa slid down into the valley at 60 mph. The land area at Misaki rose by 24 ft, and there was a new underwater ridge 300 ft high. The island of Oshima suffered a tsunami 40 ft high.
As a result of ruptured oil tanks and piping at Yokohama, burning oil ran into Yokohama harbor and there was a mad scramble for boats to get out to sea. There were 88 different fires in Yokohama alone, and in the Honjo ward, 40,000 people were suffocated when the fire burned up all of the oxygen in the air. An additional 30,000 refugees took shelter in the city park, and they all died in the ensuing tsunami.
The luxurious passenger liner Taiyo Maru was originally built in Germany and it was donated to Japan after World War 1. This floating palace, with 600 passengers aboard, was four days out from Tokyo, 300 miles distant. As result of the turbulent underwater tsunami, a propeller was torn off.
The cities of Tokyo & Yokohama were largely devastated by the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, as it is known today, and it was difficult to get word out about the massive terrible tragedy. On the day after the earthquake, airplanes were commandeered to fly messages out to nearby cities. In addition, 500 carrier pigeons with tiny messages attached were dispatched to different localities.
The first wireless message from Yokohama Harbor was sent out from the ship “Korea” and it was addressed to the governor of Tokyo. Due to local damage, no reply was received. The “Korea” then sent out a second message addressed to the wireless station at Osaka, and Osaka then made a high powered general broadcast. This message was heard by the American fleet in China waters and they immediately steamed for the stricken areas of Japan.
Soon after the original impact of the Kanto Earthquake, the wireless operator on board the Taiyo Maru sent out an SOS message by spark wireless, stating that a propeller had been torn off. This message was received by navy wireless at Cordova in Alaska, and then relayed to navy wireless at Bremerton in Washington state, who relayed the message on to the ship’s agents in San Francisco.
In view of the fact that all land communications were devastated in the earthquake areas, the Japanese government took over the wireless facilities on board the major ships in nearby waters, including the Taiyo Maru. In fact, at this stage, their agents in the United States were concerned that the ship had suffered a major calamity, due to the fact that no follow up messages were received subsequent to the original SOS message. However, the fact was that the ship’s wireless was involved in the relay of official messages on behalf of the Japanese government.
Four days after the major earthquake, the ship Taiyo Maru arrived at Yokohama only to discover that the city was totally destroyed. This ship took on board a total of 3,000 refugees. Several American navy vessels had already arrived in Yokohama to provide relief for the stricken survivors. They had been on duty in nearby ports along coastal China and they were the first to provide relief to the area in Japan.
The Great Kanto Earthquake was of such a horrendous nature that for many years, local events were dated by the number of years after this disastrous event. It is interesting though, that the major communication facilities at the time were aboard large ships in nearby waters and they succeeded in passing out important information. This was the case also, as we observed in previous editions of Wavescan, for the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and the 1931 earthquake in Napier, New Zealand.
(AWR Wavwscan/NWS91 via Adrian Peterson)