Two and a half minutes of panic while the great tremor went on. Then hours, days, perhaps weeks of future anxiety before the consequences of the explosion in the Fukushima nuclear plant are finally understood. And months or years to repair the devastation caused along the northeast coast of Japan by the greatest tsunami - created by a quake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale - that the Japanese archipelago has suffered since regular records began in 1900.
It was the fifth most intense earthquake in world history, and has caused damage thousands of kilometers away on the coasts of California and Chile. While Japan is exceptionally well prepared for this particular type of disaster, the death toll may run into the tens of thousands.
Less than 24 hours after the first great quake, which took place on Friday morning Spanish time, a salvage operation as huge as the disaster itself was underway. Hundreds of planes and boats and thousands of soldiers swarmed into the affected areas, with a precision, discipline and calm comparable to that of the citizens themselves - the vast majority of whom never lost their composure, even when they must have been in a state of terror. Those who had survived the first shock had every likelihood of being saved, and in the first 24 hours alone, after the disaster, more than 3,000 people were rescued from among the ruins.
But not only did the tremor repeat itself in the form of aftershocks, which arrived in a seemingly endless chain reaction, sometimes as destructive as the initial quake itself, but then there also came a huge wave, measuring up to 10 meters in height and moving at 800 kilometers per hour. It soon hit the nuclear power plant of Fukushima, where on Saturday an explosion ripped through the reactor's protective shell.
As soon as it became clear that there had been a radioactive leak, civil emergency services proceeded to evacuate some 200,000 people living within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant. Although it has been classed as minor, the leak is contaminating the atmosphere, with consequences that are still unpredictable.
The authorities affirm that it is "unlikely" that the explosion could have damaged the reactor itself, which brings to mind the tragedy at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. However, "unlikely" is an adjective that is itself unlikely to have a calming effect on public opinion, and a state of nuclear alert has been declared. The catastrophe has, in any case, become another powerful argument for those who oppose the use of this type of energy, and is particularly relevant for countries such as Spain, where the continued use of nuclear power has again been under debate, as more than one of our present plants approaches its closure date.
The effects of the tidal wave have not only been geophysical ones. The Asian stock markets immediately reacted, obviously in the bearish sense, and expectations were not good for today's reopening of the Tokyo Stock Market. The damage caused by the devastation is roughly estimated at 400 billion euros, in a country that had already been suffering a recession prior to the world economic crisis.