Travel disruptions from Japan earthquake and tsunami continue

After the record earthquake and devastating tsunami delivered a near knock-out punch to Japan yesterday, the damage is still being assessed. The death toll is rising, fears of a nuclear disaster worsen, travel alerts have been issued and hundreds of flights have been canceled as tens of thousands of travelers have been left stranded.

In Japan, both Narita (NRT) and Haneda airports (HND) which handle international and domestic flights for Tokyo were closed Friday, leaving 14,000 passengers stranded. Sendai airport (SDJ), 300 kilomerters to the north was virtually destroyed by the tsunami. Both Haneda and Narita have reopened but it is expected that flight schedules will be affected into early next week as Japanese travelers from around the world struggle to get back home.Elsewhere, the effect of Japan’s airport failures combined with a huge increase in demand for flights into Japan have had a cascading effect on travel around the globe. Airports from Canada to London saw delayed flights as the U.S. issued a travel alert urging U.S. citizens “to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan at this time.”

In Japan, it is considered poor form to take a vacation when your family or your employer needs you. Beyond the strong, immediate need Japanese travelers out of the country have to get back home, future travel plans could affect tourism world-wide for quite some time.

The U.S Department of State noted in its alert shortly after the event that “Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a strong earthquake such as this one.” Indeed, at least 20 aftershocks ranging from 5 to 6.8 magnitude have hit Japan, a day after the 8.9 magnitude caused mass destruction.

Getting up to speed on the problem at Japan’s nuclear power plants, Friday’s events caused concern that reactors left without normal cooling capability are on a countdown to meltdown. Hour by hour, battery backup that replaced diesel generators used in the nuclear core cooling process weaken. In a race against time, at some point radioactivity will be released if the problem is not corrected.

“The events that occurred at these plants, which is the loss of both offsite power and onsite power, is one of the rarest events to happen in a nuclear power plant, and all indications are that the Japanese do not have the situation under control,” Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert told The Telegraph today.

It was a one, two, knock-out punch as the quake and tsunami took out the Daiichi reactor’s off-site power source and then tsunami waves disabled the backup source of power.

Beyond the melt-down concern, about a 1 million homes were reported without power.

and photos of the disaster both during and after the earthquake and hurricane provide little hope that travel disruptions from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami will go away any time soon.