Eleventh day after the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake (Apr 25, 2016)

2016.04.28 ●News

Eleventh day after the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake

(Apr 25, 2016)


Ryuichi Nishinakamura
Director, Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics (IMEG)


Past messages from the Director:
To all IMEG members and supporters (Apr. 19, 2016)
Be smart. Stay foolish (Apr. 14, 2016)


Photos of the institute after the Kumamoto earthquake 2016


The IMEG building has been diagnosed as barely collapsed, but the damage is quite serious. Access to the building is restricted because of the risk of outer panel peeling and falling parts as a result of afterquakes. Outer wall cracks have penetrated to the inner wall cracks, and rainwater flows into the building. Rainwater also comes in through the crack at the junction between the one-story conference building and nine-story research building. Windows on the middle floors (3rd–6th floors) are distorted such that they cannot be lifted up or stood open. We installed plastic weather strips to prevent water from entering.


On the upper floors (6th–9th floors), water supply and gas pipes are damaged, which has caused water leaks. Some laboratories and all the elevators were flooded. Laboratories are damaged especially on the upper floors; most equipment, including the lab benches, PCs, microscopes, CO2 incubators, and clean benches in each laboratory, have fallen or are overturned. Expensive equipment, including FACS, mass spectrometers, and next- generation sequencers, was also located on the middle and upper floors as common equipment, and most of these have fallen or been overturned.


Our first priority is to ensure the safety of the people involved in research activities. This is urgent because IMEG’s buildings are more severely damaged than other facilities. Extensive refurbishing is needed. For example, gondolas and scaffolds are needed to refurbish the outer walls. However, our current task is only to assess the present situation because aftershocks are still occurring. We hope that experts will visit our buildings when the aftershocks stop and the transportation network is recovered. We wish to begin refurbishing operations as soon as possible.


We will recover the laboratory infrastructures to relaunch research activities by following two steps. First, we will attach the fundamental research instruments firmly to the floors (e.g., several types of benches including clean benches, microscopies, PCs, and incubators). We plan to move some of them from the upper to the lower levels inside the main building to ensure greater safety. Second, we will do our best to repair the advanced instruments (e.g., fluorescence-activated cell sorters [FACS], mass spectrometers, next-generation sequencers, and confocal microscopes) that have provided support for research activities so far in laboratories nationwide in Japan, because we have a mission to return to serving our institute as a Joint Center for Research again. We need time to complete the fixes, as we should wait until the afterquake clusters have passed before bringing technical supports to our institute. We expect to finish by the middle of May this year. As we progress in the preliminary investigation, we face the fact that many instruments are too damaged to be repaired after having fallen to the ground. We tentatively consider that it will take a great deal of time and money to repair the buildings, lab environments, and instruments.


Rather than feeling battered, we are now excited to overcome this difficulty. While we have evacuated students from Kumamoto to their hometowns or other remote locations, the faculty and staff remain in Kumamoto to recover the institute. We start each morning by cleaning the laboratories. Then we meet for lunch to share information and encourage each other while eating bread and rice balls voluntarily provided by the professors.


Mr. Aoki reports on the building conditions, and Drs.. Seki and Tani report on the conditions of the laboratory equipment. Timely information from the laboratories and an active exchange of views produce great solutions. The junior laboratory staff, Drs. Taguchi, Hino, Esaki, and Soga, come up with tangible processes for restoration. In the afternoon, all staff members separate into groups to carry out the processes. We share information through e-mail and on a whiteboard located in front of the entrance. Dr. Ogura and Mr. Usuki post updated information on our website and Facebook. Drs. Niwa and Nakamura are responsible for the external negotiations. Dr. Nakao and I are working to prepare many reports and petitions. Drs. Shimamura and Hatakeyama, who were were working on the 8th floor when the main earthquake occurred on Apr 16, have returned safely and are taking an active part in restoring the microscopes.


All the institute’s employees have been making tremendous efforts in the restoration, with the following results: 1) all instruments damaged by the earthquake were transferred to secured places, 2) the institutional water supply was reestablished on April 22, and 3) a water-soaked elevator was restored. We will test the electric leak in the instruments on April 25 and examine the other functions later on.


Since electricity has been supplied normally to IMEG even after the earthquake, all research samples have been maintained at an adequate temperature. In addition, the animal facility at the Institute of Research Development and Analysis, Kumamoto University, was less damaged by the earthquake, and we hope to restart our research there soon.


On April 14, the day of the earthquake, Tanigawa et al. published their work in Cell Reports. Their findings were reported in many newspapers the same day. In addition, the May 2016 issue of a Japanese scientific magazine named Experimental Medicine, which was edited by IMEG’s Department of Kidney Development, is now on sale. We would like to keep you updated on our research.


More than 10 days have passed since the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. There were over 850 aftershocks. Some of our staff members still live in their cars because of the high degree of house damage or fear of aftershocks. Families were forced to take refuge in other areas. We cannot take baths or cook because of delays in the restoration of gas. Furthermore, water has not been restored in some districts. Our staff members face physical and mental fatigue. I would like to tell our staff members, please do not overexert yourself. Take on only what you can. Please rest so that you do not feel pushed to your limits, visit a hospital if you need to, or take refuge in a surrounding area. Further, our work prioritizes “safety first,” not “speed.” We have to tackle the problem using a long-term strategy. It is important not to do too much too quickly.



Translation; Volunteer members of Tohoku University, Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization
English Proofreading; Volunteer work of Editage by CACTUS