Across the Pacific, the infamous earthquake-prone ‘Ring of Fire’ stretching around the great ocean from New Zealand to the tip of South America would soon create a significantly greater disaster than that which afflicted the residents of Christchurch the previous month. In the early afternoon of 11 March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake exploded some 72 km (45 ml) off the northeast coast of Japan’s largest island, Honshu. This undersea megathrust event was a maximum-9-magnitude earthquake that ranked among the world’s five most powerful since records began and the worst ever to hit Japan. It lasted for six minutes and unleashed a fearsome tsunami that smashed into the east coasts of Japan’s islands, most damagingly in Tohuku Region to the north of Honshu.
Waves up to 38 m (124 ft) high roared as far as 10 km (6 mi) inland. Roads and railways were inundated, whole towns and villages were swept away and when the waters receded around 125,000 buildings had been seriously damaged or destroyed.
Thousands were dead or missing and literally millions of households in Northern Japan were left without electricity or drinking water. Although Japan bore the brunt of the tsunami’s fury the coast of Chile – 17,000 km (11,000 mi) away – was still hit by a wave 2m (6 ft) high.
In the aftermath, the harrowing body count and estimated number of missing persons rose inexorably. The human cost may have been terrible, but massive infrastructure damage will have an equally significant negative impact on the nation’s future.
The continuing danger of ultimate meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, with its four seriously damaged reactors, not only caused the complete evacuation of a safety zone extending to 20 km (12 mi) but threatened an international radiation disaster of Chernobyl proportions.
When: March 11 2011
Where: Toiuikti Region, Honshu Island, Japan
Death toll: 30,000+ (estimated, as thousands simply vanished and were never recovered)
You should know: The cost of reconstruction has been conservatively estimated at $300 billion, making this the world’s most- expensive-ever natural disaster, in the immediate aftermath, around 500,000 displaced persons were in temporary accommodation, and restoring some semblance of normality was expected to take a minimum of three years.