The Great East Japan Earthquake
A story of a devastating natural disaster, a tale of human compassion
On 11 March 2011, in the early afternoon (14:46:23 local time), Japan was rocked by 9.0-magnitude earthquake that caused widespread damage to the country’s eastern coastal region. It lasted approximately six minutes, occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 24.4 kilometres (km), or 15.2 miles, with an epicentre of approximately 130 km (80 miles) east of Sendai City, Tohoku region. The earthquake was so powerful it moved Honshu, Japan’s largest island, 2.4 metres east and shifted the Earth on its axis by an estimated 10 to 25 centimetres.
Within the first day following the earthquake, more than 50 aftershocks were experienced, seven of which measured at least 6.3 on the Richter scale. Subsequently, the earthquake triggered 647 aftershocks (as of 4 August 2011), many with associated tsunami warnings.
The tsunami that followed the earthquake devastated the coastal areas of Tohoku and southern Hokkaido and claimed the majority of the 15 848 lives lost (officially recorded death toll as of 10 February 2012). The first tsunami wave reached the coast only 15 minutes after the earthquake. The tsunami was so strong it reached farther inland than expected. The height of the tsunami was considerable, with reports measuring the maximum height of the wave at approximately 38 metres, which is the height of a 12-storey building. A continuous stretch of land more than 500 km in length in coastal areas of Honshu Island, from the Tohoku to Kanto regions, was directly impacted.
Following the massive earthquake and tsunami, an accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was reported as a potential public health emergency of international concern. In time, the International Nuclear Event Scale was raised to Level 7, the highest level.
The widespread damage to the eastern parts of Japan has been referred to as the worst natural disaster in the country’s recorded history. In areas of the Tohoku region, entire towns were washed away by the tsunami, reducing some communities to less than half of their pre-tsunami populations.