On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, known as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, struck Japan, which was followed by a water and nuclear disaster. According to Becky Oskin, it was not the largest nor deadliest earthquake and tsunami to happen this century, but it was especially devastating for a country seismically active like Japan as few scientists expected such things to happen. The previous worst earthquake in Japan was an 8.3 magnitude earthquake that happened in Kanto in 1923, which killed 143,00o people. 7.2 magnitude Kobe earthquake killed 6,4000 people in 1995. However, in Tohoku earthquake less than 10 percent of the victims were due to the quake, as most of them (15,840 people) drowned, as UNESCO states.
A man looks through the rubble in the city of Rikuzentakata
The quake happened on what is known as a subduction zone, at 2:46 p.m. local time. The epicenter was located approximately 70 kilometers east of the Oshika Peninsula, at a depth of 32 kilometers. The shaking had a duration of six minutes more or less. Even in Tokyo, which was far away from the epicenter, the quake could be felt. William M. Tsutsui, a proffesor of Japanese business and economic history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and who at the moment of the quake was there, stated:
What was scariest was to look up at the skyscrapers all around. They were swaying like trees in the breeze.
In less than an hour after the shake, Japan was being hit by one of the many tsunami waves. According to Oskin, those waves measured up to 39 meters at the city of Miyako, travelled inland in Sendai as far as 10 kilometers and flooded an area of approximately 561 square kilometers in Japan.
This video shows an aerial view of the giant tsunami waves:
The tsunami caused a level 7 nuclear meltdown, which released radioactive materials. The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rating system classifies the severity of nuclear disasters, ranging from level 1 (“Anomaly”) to level 7 (“Major Accident”). The Fukushima disaster was rated as level 7 by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority in 2011. It was the second incident to measure level 7 after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Since the first day of the incident thousands of people were evacuated from the nearby areas. According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbum, The Tokyo Electric Power Plant (TEPCO) estimated that since the disaster, between 20 and 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium were leaked into the ocean. Several scientists have analysed the radioactivity level in sea life since the disaster, seeing that the levels of cesium in the different species of fish caught in the coast of Fukushima in 2011 and 2012 surpassed the regulatory limits.
In the following years, American and Canadian shores have seen the arrival of tons of debris that was brought to the sea, as well as Japanese ships, docks or household items.
Martin Fackler (March 11, 2011). Powerful Quake and Tsunami Devastate Northern Japan. Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/12/world/asia/12japan.html?pagewanted=all&_r=3&
Becky Oskin (August 22, 2013). Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011: Facts and Information. Retrieved January 8, 2014 from http://www.livescience.com/39110-japan-2011-earthquake-tsunami-facts.html
Tanya Lewis (August 21, 2013). Fukushima Radiaction Leak: 5 Things You Should Know. Retrieved January 12, 2014 from http://www.livescience.com/39067-fukushima-radiation-5-things-to-know.html
Rajib Shaw, Yukiko Takeuchi and Kyoto University (May, 2012). East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Retrieved January 12, 2014 from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002161/216169e.pdf
Man looking through the rubble image retrieved January 8, 2014 from http://latimesphoto.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/japan-quake0316-01_li5kk7nc.jpg
Aerial view of the giant tsunami waves video retrieved January 14, 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3AdFjklR50