by Mike McNamee Published 01/04/2011
It has been a horrific few weeks on the world stage. No sooner had the Middle East boiled over than Christchurch, New Zealand was levelled by an earthquake, followed by the terrible events in Japan. This has to be the most recorded trio of disasters of all time, and the prevalence of both still- and video-capabilities of mobile phones has resulted in a web populated with material which shows the full horror of it all. Some is man-made, some by Nature, but the results are comparable, legions of confused and frightened people wandering around ruins, trying to make sense of it all. The extent of the events means that they touch many more people, even though they are thousands of miles away. A photographic acquaintance, who lives just outside Christchurch, was deep underground in a road tunnel when the earthquake struck and, following that terrifying experience, arrived home to find that the house was a bit of a mess. Such was the devastation in the local area he was thankful that all he had to do was clean up smashed glass and put things back on the shelves from which they had been shaken. He was regarding his escapade as trivial by comparison to other things that were happening.
The effect that these events will have on the economy is still being played out. Nobody, it seems, will be insulated from the plunge in the economies. British banks are up to their necks in investments within Japan, long considered one of the safe havens for making your money grow. Although the north island is substantially agricultural, the Nikon factory is based on the outskirts of Sendai and took much of the earthquake but thankfully none of the tsunami. It is, however, closed at the time of writing and it seems likely that the population will have more pressing matters to deal with than making cameras for some time.
Even if the relatively undamaged factory gets back on stream (which will depend upon the outcome of events surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant) the port of Sendai took the brunt of the tsunami and will be out of action for some time. Canon's factory in northern Honshu, which is understood to make lenses, remains closed with no word on when production will resume due to "the regional interruption of life-lines...".. Fifteen people were reported injured there. Two Sigma works are situated in Aizu and Bandai in Fukushima Prefecture and are reported as being closed. At the time of writing (18 March) Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and Olympus had reported injuries to staff.
Seiko Epson Corp said that it had no reports of any casualties but that some of its facilities were damaged. Hachinohe-based Epson Atmix Corp, which provides metal powders, metal injection moulded parts and synthetic quartz crystal, was said to have been subject to a one metre tsunami, while the Fukushima plant of Epson Toyocom Corp (optical devices, sensing devices, clock modules, oscillators, resonators, and filters) was partially damaged, and is also under an evacuation order, since it is within 20 kilometres of the failing Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. There was no schedule for either facility to resume operations. Akita Epson Corp, which manufactures printer heads and crystal devices, received minimal damage and had resumed operations, with the quartz crystal production facility expected to resume shortly afterwards. Finally, the Sakata plant (semiconductor manufacture) of Seiko Epson Corp. and Tohoku Epson Corp (printer component manufacture) were believed to be undamaged, but had suspended operations due to rolling power cuts. The status of production facilities at these locations was under investigation, and so there was no update on when production will resume.
I fear we are about to learn just how important the Japanese are to the photographic industry, but that needs to be put to one side and all efforts should be directed towards feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and getting the infrastructure up and running again. Our hearts go out to them, and indeed to the victims of the other events, and we wish them good speed in their efforts to recover.
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