Japan was hit by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, that triggered a deadly 23-foot tsunami in the country’s north. The giant waves deluged cities and rural areas alike, sweeping away cars, homes, buildings, a train, and boats, leaving a path of death and devastation in its wake. Video footage showed cars racing away from surging waves. The earthquake—the largest in Japan’s history—struck about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued warnings for Russia, Taiwan, Hawaii, Indonesia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the west coasts the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and South America. According to the official toll, the disasters left 15,839 dead, 5,950 injured, and 3,642 missing. Earthquake Causes Nuclear Disaster
What’s more, cooling systems in one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in the Fukushima prefecture on the east coast of Japan failed shortly after the earthquake, causing a nuclear crisis. This initial reactor failure was followed by an explosion and eventual partial meltdowns in two reactors, then by a fire in another reactor which released radioactivity directly into the atmosphere. The nuclear troubles were not limited to the Daiichi plant; three other nuclear facilities also reported problems. More than 200,000 residents were evacuated from affected areas. On April 12, Japan raised its assessment of the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to Level 7, the worst rating on the international scale, putting the disaster on par with the 1986 Chernobyl explosion. Developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) along with countries who use nuclear energy, the scale defines level 7 as a nuclear accident that involves “widespread health and environmental effects” and the “external release of a significant fraction of the reactor core inventory.” Almost two months later, the IAEA called the status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant “very serious.”
At a news conference on March 13, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who later gave the disaster the name “Great East Japan Earthquake”, emphasized the gravity of the situation: “I think that the earthquake, tsunami, and the situation at our nuclear reactors makes up the worst crisis in the 65 years since the war. If the nation works together, we will overcome.” The government called in 100,000 troops to aid in the relief effort. The deployment was the largest since World War II. The tsunami in Japan recalled the 2004 disaster in the Indian Ocean. On Dec. 26, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake—the largest earthquake in 40 years—ruptured in the Indian Ocean, off the northwest coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The earthquake stirred up the deadliest tsunami in world history, so powerful that the waves caused loss of life on the coast of Africa and were even detected on the East Coast of the United States. More than 225,000 people died from the disaster, a half a million were injured, and millions were left homeless.
Damage & effects
Read more: Tsunami Factfile: Learn about the tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 — The degree and extent of damage caused by the earthquake and resulting tsunami were enormous, with most of the damage being caused by the tsunami. Video footage of the towns that were worst affected shows little more than piles of rubble, with almost no parts of any structures left standing. Estimates of the cost of the damage range well into the tens of billions of US dollars; before-and-aftersatellite photographs of devastated regions show immense damage to many regions. Although Japan has invested the equivalent of billions of dollars on anti-tsunami seawalls which line at least 40% of its 34,751 km (21,593 mi) coastline and stand up to 12 m (39 ft) high, the tsunami simply washed over the top of some seawalls, collapsing some in the process.
A fire which broke out in Tokyoafter the earthquake
Japan’s National Police Agency said on 3 April 2011, that 45,700 buildings were destroyed and 144,300 were damaged by the quake and tsunami. The damaged buildings included 29,500 structures in Miyagi Prefecture, 12,500 in Iwate Prefecture and 2,400 in Fukushima Prefecture. Three hundred hospitals with 20 beds or more in Tōhoku were damaged by the disaster, with 11 being completely destroyed. The earthquake and tsunami created an estimated 24–25 million tons of rubble and debris in Japan. An estimated 230,000 automobiles and trucks were damaged or destroyed in the disaster. As of the end of May 2011, residents of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures had requested deregistration of 15,000 vehicles, meaning that the owners of those vehicles were writing them off as unrepairable or unsalvageable.
Memorials amongst the ruins, Natori
The National Police Agency has confirmed 15,867 deaths, 6,109 injured, and 2,909 people missing across twentyprefectures. Of the 13,135 fatalities recovered by 11 April 2011, 12,143 or 92.5% died by drowning. Victims aged 60 or older accounted for 65.2% of the deaths, with 24% of total victims being in their 70s. As of March 2012, Japanese police data showed that 70% of the 3,279 still missing were aged 60 or over, including 893 in their 70s and 577 in their 80s. Of the total confirmed victims, 14,308 drowned, 667 were crushed to death or died from internal injuries, and 145 perished from burns.
Tsunami damage between Sendai and Sendai Bay.
Save the Children reports that as many as 100,000 children were uprooted from their homes, some of whom were separated from their families because the earthquake occurred during the school day.236 children were orphaned in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima by the disaster;1,580 children lost either one or both parents, 846 in Miyagi, 572 in Iwate, and 162 in Fukushima. The quake and tsunami killed 378 elementary, middle-school, and high school students and left 158 others missing. One elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Okawa Elementary, lost 74 of 108 students and 10 of 13 teachers and staff. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has confirmed the deaths of nineteen foreigners.
Among them are two English teachers from the United States affiliated with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program; a Canadian missionary in Shiogama; and citizens of China, North and South Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan and the Philippines. By 9:30 UTC on 11 March, Google Person Finder, which was previously used in the Haitian, Chilean, and Christchurch, New Zealandearthquakes, was collecting information about survivors and their locations. The Next of Kin Registry (NOKR) is assisting the Japanese government in locating next of kin for those missing or deceased. Japanese funerals are normally elaborate Buddhist ceremonies which entail cremation. The thousands of bodies, however, exceeded the capacity of available crematoriums and morgues, many of them damaged, and there were shortages of both kerosene—each cremation requires 50 liters—and dry ice for preservation. The single crematorium in Higashimatsushima, for example, could only handle four bodies a day, although hundreds were found there. Governments and the military were forced to bury many bodies in hastily dug mass graves with rudimentary or no rites, although relatives of the deceased were promised that they would be cremated later.
The tsunami is reported to have caused several deaths outside of Japan. One man was killed in Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia after being swept out to sea. A man who is said to have been attempting to photograph the oncoming tsunami at the mouth of the Klamath River, south of Crescent City, California, was swept out to sea. His body was found on 2 April along Ocean Beach in Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon, some 330 miles (530 km) to the north. As of 27 May 2011, three Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members had died while conducting relief operations in Tōhoku. As of March 2012, the Japanese government had recognized 1,331 deaths as indirectly related to the earthquake, such as caused by harsh living conditions after the disaster. As of 30 April 2012, 18 people had died and 420 had been injured while participating in disaster recovery or clean-up efforts.