Catastrophic. The word is one which is bandied about rather freely. A political event is called a catastrophic if a program doesn't get enough funding to satisfy the speaker. If the Roast Beef isn't quite right, it's a catastrophic failure to some.
What has happened, and continues to happen in Japan is what Catastrophic was meant to convey. The island nation has already endured a brutal one two punch combination that would have any nation reeling from the events. First the largest, most powerful earth quake in the recorded history of the nation. It literally shifted the entire island nation eight feet. Some scientists are now of the opinion that the entire world shifted on it's axis a few small inches from the severity of the earthquake. I am not going to bother commenting on that one other than to merely raise an eyebrow in amusement.
That amusement ends at the actual first acts of the catastrophic situation in Japan. The earthquake was first. It was followed by a huge Tsunami of over twenty feet. Video of that has captured the worlds horrified imagination.
Then we come to the third act, and we hope last act. The Nuclear Power problem. Engineers design things with safeguards, and with back ups when it comes to major systems or sites. They engineered the Nuclear Power Plant the same way. If a major earth quake struck, the plant could continue safely by using prepared and provided Diesel Generators. In fact, the plant personnel were reported to be doing that very thing, starting the Diesel Generators after the Earthquake, when the Tsunami hit.
This second punch knocked out the Diesel Generators, and they have been struggling since that time to get something working. Now, the reports are that there has been a bit of meltdown, but they're working to cool the plant using sea water.
This ladies and gentlemen is a situation where catastrophic certainly fits. We should save that word for times like this, for times when widespread disaster strikes a people. If we can't refrain from using it for lesser things, then we need a new word. One we seal in a box and place on a shelf with a sign next to it. Break glass only when Catastrophic fails to describe disaster.
The situation in Japan would certainly qualify.
Our best wishes, and hopes, go out to the Japanese people, and those with families in Japan.