-dollar deficit. A million square miles. A billion light-years. One-millionth of an inch.
Numbers, when they get big enough, or even small enough, boggle the mind.
In the past few days we've all been bombarded with numbers that seek to quantify a catastrophe: Richter 9.0, 500 aftershocks, 10,000+ dead, half a million in shelters, 30-foot wall of water, 6 on the Nuclear Event Scale. The sheer number of numbers is numbing.
In an effort to try to understand the disaster just in a spatial sense, I went looking for some figures so I could put it in a context I could visualize. In my case, I've put the Japan earthquake in terms of my own state...
Japan has an area of 145,925 square miles. This is roughly half the area of the state of Texas. But it has a population of 126,804,433, five times that of Texas. So I'm trying to imagine quintupling the population of Texas and then pushing them all north of a line running from, say, El Paso through San Angelo to Lufkin. Yes, Japan is a country, but it's contained in a space half the size of Texas, and all that devastation we're seeing is enclosed in a much tinier space than you normally envision when thinking of a powerful country with the world's third largest economy. Or at least, what used to be.
So...when I think of Tokyo and the fact that it was not nearly as hard-hit as other places, it helps to remember that it's still in the middle of the devastation. There just isn't anywhere to go in Japan that hasn't been touched in some way, and it seems like that will be more true as the days wear on. Imagine 126 million people crowded into north Texas and millions of them homeless and/or economically ruined. It wouldn't matter that we're a rich, developed country. No amount of development matters much when the catastrophe is so all-encompassing.
Tonight, I was struck by a remark made by a reporter visiting what is now hundreds of acres of rubble:
"All that's left of the town is its website."
God, have mercy.