At a large refinery on the outskirts of the city, 100-foot (30-meter) -high bright orange flames rose in the air, spitting out dark plumes of smoke. The facility has been burning since Friday. The fire’s roar could be heard from afar. Smoke burned the eyes and throat, and a gaseous stench hung in the air.
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President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russia’s Emergencies Ministry to gear up to assist Japan in dealing with the aftermath of the major earthquake and tsunami that pounded the Asian country.
The ministry said that it was ready to provide all necessary aid required at the moment.
Medvedev was speaking at a Friday session of the State Council dedicated to the development of Russia’s energy industry. When news of the Japanese earthquake broke, the leader of the Russian state said that his nation was ready to help its neighbors and that a state of emergency had already been declared. Medvedev ordered all agencies to deal with the possible consequences on Russian territory as well. “On our Kuril Islands, in the Sakhalin region, on our land, we also need to take all of the necessary measures to prevent damage and the loss of human lives,” he said.
“Our consolidation should be at its highest today. I am instructing the emergency situations minister to submit these assistance-related suggestions to me for confirmation,” President Medvedev said.
The Emergencies Ministry reported it that was ready to carry out the presidential order. “Should Tokyo appeal, including via the United Nations, Russia will be ready to provide the necessary humanitarian aid to Japan,” Russian news agency Interfax quoted the Emergencies Ministry source as saying on Friday.
Friday’s earthquake is the biggest to hit Japan in 140 years, unleashing a 10-meter high tsunami that barreled through the country’s Pacific coast. The disaster killed at least 40 people and washed away hundreds of buildings and structures.
Dmitry Medvedev’s offer of help came during the period of strained relations between Moscow and Tokyo, caused by a long-lasting dispute over several islands in Russia’s Far East.
Japan lost the islands, the Kurils, to Russia after the Second World War, but ambiguities in the treaty allowed Japan to claim that the four islands in the archipelago as its territory. Since Russia said that the results of the post-war agreements must not be revised, the two countries have not signed a peace treaty to this day.
Russia’s president paid a visit to the Kurils at the end of October and the move sparked official protest in Japan along with a number of public rallies. Russia responded by announcing plans to boost its military presence in the region.
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Television footage showed a 4-metre tsunami sweeping over embankments in Sendai city, bearing cars and houses – some on fire – across farmland, before reversing course and carrying them out to sea. Public broadcaster NHK showed images of a large ship ramming into a breakwater in Kennuma city, Miyagi prefecture.
The quake and tsunami halted air and rail services across large parts of the country. Eight military planes were scrambled to survey the damage as areas along Japan’s entire Pacific coast braced for aftershocks and the possibility of more tsunami.
The Pacific tsunami warning centre in Hawaii said a warning was in effect for Japan, Russia, Marcus Island and the Northern Marianas. Tsunami watches have been issued for Guam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hawaii and the entire western coast of the US and Canada, from the Mexican border to Chignik Bay in Alaska.
The Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan, promised a quick response as he called an emergency cabinet meeting.
“The earthquake has caused major damage in broad areas in northern Japan,” Kan said during an emergency news conference. “Some of the nuclear power plant in the region have automatically shut down, but there is no leakage of radioactive materials to the environment.”
The shutdown left 4m homes in and around Tokyo without power.
Kan said he had set up an emergency taskforce to co-ordinate the rescue effort.
“The government will make an all-out effort to ensure the safety of all the people and contain the damage to the minimum,” he said.
Junichi Sawada, an official with Japan’s fire and disaster management agency, said: “This is a rare, major quake, and damages could quickly rise by the minute.”
Fire department officials in Osaki, Miyagi prefecture, said at least 20 people had been injured by falling objects, with some reportedly trapped under debris. At least 10 people were injured when part of a hall roof collapsed in Tokyo, the metropolitan police department said.
All flights were grounded immediately after the quake while officials checked for runway damage. Strong tremors were felt in Tokyo about 30 minutes after the quake. Newsreaders in the capital wore helmets as they gave updates, while office workers rushed out of buildings and on to the streets for safety.
Osamu Akiya, 46, was working at his Tokyo office when the quake hit, sending bookshelves and other items flying and opening up cracks in the wall.
“I’ve been through many earthquakes, but I’ve never felt anything like this,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to get home tonight.”
Television footage showed a building on fire in the Odaiba district of Tokyo, although it was not immediately clear if the blaze was connected to the earthquake. Another fire was seen burning out of control at the at Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara, in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo.
Water levels rose quickly in the coastal town of Miyako in Iwate prefecture, while vehicles, houses and buildings were swept away by the tsunami in Onahama city, Fukushima prefecture.
TV news presenters repeatedly warned people along the Pacific coast to head for higher ground.
The quake is one of several to have struck north-east Japan this week, including one of magnitude 7.3 on Wednesday.
In 1933, a magnitude 8.1 quake in the area killed more than 3,000 people. Last year fishing facilities were damaged by a tsunami caused by a strong quake in Chile.
Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, accounting for about 20% of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.
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Washington has come down with a case of fiscal fever as the Obama administration proposes everything from spending freezes on domestic programs to selling off unused government property to bring the budget back in line. Now, one study argues that the government can save billions of dollars simply by making a change to the currency itself.
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Earlier this month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a formal proposal to the Treasury and Federal Reserve noting that if it eliminated the $1 bill and replaced it with the $1 coin, the country could save roughly $5.5 billion during the next 30 years. The reason, according to the agency’s report, is that dollar bills have a shorter lifespan than dollar coins because they wear much faster, which in turn requires the government to spend more to print new bills.
The GAO estimates that phasing out dollar bills in favor of coins would require a four-year transition period, during which the government invests in the new currency, but following that, the government would save an expected $522 million each year from the change.
“GAO has noted in past reports that efforts to increase the circulation and public acceptance of the $1 coin have not succeeded, in part, because the $1 note has remained in circulation,” the agency wrote in its report. So if we are ever going to make the switch to dollar coins, as other countries like Canada have done, the GAO suggests the only way to do so is to phase dollar bills out of circulation altogether.
Before you start hoarding your dollar bills though, keep in mind that the GAO has made similar proposals four times during the past two decades, and obviously dollar bills are still in circulation. The only difference this time is that the overall climate in Washington is more geared toward budget cutbacks now, but given that it would take several years for the savings to kick in, this seems unlikely as well.
Still, we’d like to pose the question to readers. Would you be willing to eliminate dollar bills and switch to coins if it meant improving the country’s balance sheet?
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