Disaster Research


"For big earthquakes, the tsunami is going to be the big destructive factor," said Vasily Titov, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Tsunami Research in Seattle, Washington. "But if the nation is prepared, warning and education definitely saves lives. Compare the human lives lost in Sumatra and Japan. It's about 10 times less."

Residents of Tokyo received a minute of warning before the strong shaking hit the city, thanks to Japan's earthquake early warning system. The country's stringent seismic building codes and early warning system prevented many deaths from the earthquake, by stopping high-speed trains and factory assembly lines. People in Japan also received texted alerts of the earthquake and tsunami warnings on their cellphones.

The tsunami caused a cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which resulted in a level-7 nuclear meltdown and release of radioactive materials. The electrical power and backup generators were overwhelmed by the tsunami, and the plant lost its cooling capabilities.

"Fukushima was created by the tsunami. The earthquake was not a factor," Titov said. "Fukushima was designed for a tsunami smaller than the one we saw."

In the tsunami's aftermath, Japan's Meteorological Agency was criticized for issuing an initial tsunami warning that underestimated the size of the wave. The country recently unveiled a newly installed, upgraded tsunami warning system.

In some regions, such as Miyagi and Fukushima, only 58 percent of people headed for higher ground immediately after the earthquake, according to a Japanese government study published in August 2011. Many people also underestimated their personal risk, or assumed the tsunami would be as small as ones they had previously experienced, the study found.

Earthquake engineers examined the damage, looking for ways to build buildings more resistant to quakes and tsunamis. Studies are ongoing today.

"The tsunami itself died out a long time ago, but the effects in Japan will be there for decades," Titov told Live Science.

More than 5,000 aftershocks hit Japan in the year after the earthquake, the largest a magnitude 7.9.

In the early afternoon of 11 March 2011, Japan was rocked by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake that caused widespread damage to the country’s eastern coastal 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.

As of February 2017, there were still about 150,000 evacuees who lost their homes; 50,000 of them were still living in temporary housingJapan's Reconstruction Agency said. More than 120,000 buildings were destroyed, 278,000 were half-destroyed and 726,000 were partially destroyed, the agency said. https://www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/great-east-japan-earthquake
The direct financial damage from the disaster is estimated to be about $199 billion dollars (about 16.9 trillion yen), according to the Japanese government. The total economic cost could reach up to $235 billion, the World Bank estimated, making it the costliest natural disaster in world historyhttps://www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/great-east-japan-earthquake
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 levelhttps://www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/great-east-japan-earthquake
will become a tool for both Japan and the international community for future disaster response efforts. As we read through this publication, let us remember the people who have lost their lives or their loved ones, and those who, through the adversity, never lost hope and started to rebuild their lives. https://www.who.int/westernpacific/news/detail/11-03-2012-the-great-east-japan-earthquake

WHO dedicates this publication to the people of Japan, and those who have shared their time, resources and talents to turn a disaster into a story of a new beginning. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

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. 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. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

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. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

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.https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

In time, the International Nuclear Event Scale was raised to Level 7, the highest level. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

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 populationshttps://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

The national health system of Japan – one of the most developed nations in the world – was overwhelmed. In some areas, the disaster response command centres were destroyed, and health care workers became victims. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

Extensive fires from spilled fuels and explosions of combustible materials followed the tsunami in a number of areas. Water did not recede back to the ocean in several areas for some time. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

In some areas, the earthquake completely altered the landscape as the land sank and rivers near the shore became a permanent part of the sea. Water completely inundated roads and other infrastructurehttps://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

 It was observed that the outcome of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami was black or white, in that people either died or survived with few physical injuries. More than 90% of deaths were due to drowning, and the majority of deaths were among the elderly. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

The impact of the disaster on medical care and health services was beyond what had been anticipated despite the country’s experience with and preparedness for earthquakes and tsunamis. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

In total, 269 fires were recorded, 250 were controlled, and 8 were still burning as of 17 March 2011. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

Sixty landslides were reported from Miyagi, Yamagata, Tokyo, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

A total of 831 736 telephone lines remained out of service on 17 March. A reported 6468 base stations of NTT, Soft Bank, KDDI, Emobile and Wilcom mobile companies were not functioning. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf

At least 3562 buildings were completely destroyed on 17 March. https://iris.wpro.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665.1/5547/9789290615682_eng.pdf