Earthquakes, Tsunami, Explosions, Oh My!

Published by: Fatma AlSayegh

1st December 2016

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake, also called Great Sendai Earthquake or Great Tōhoku Earthquake, hit northeastern Japan, unleashing a savage tsunami. The earthquake could be felt as far as Russia, Taiwan, and China, and was the strongest and most powerful earthquake to ever strike Japan.

Timeline of all the events (all times and dates are in Japanese time):

– March 11, 2011:

  • At 2:46 p.m., an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hits the northeast of Tokyo.
  • The earthquake caused 2 plates to collide, which triggered 30 ft. high waves that flooded the city and carried away massive amounts of debris and victims, while also leaving large stretches of land underwater.
  • The Japanese government declared an evacuation of nearly sixty to seventy thousand people that were living near a hazards’ nuclear power plant, 180 miles from Tokyo

-March 12, 2011:

  • Overnight, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Nagano and Niigata area.
  • At 5 a.m., a nuclear emergency is declared at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The earthquake and tsunami have cut off the plant’s electrical power, and the backup generators have been disabled by the tsunami.
  • A minimum of six million homes, which are 10 percent of Japan’s households, are without electricity.
  • A minimum of one million homes is without water.

-March 13, 2011:

  • A partial meltdown may be occurring at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant, igniting fears of release of radioactive material.
  • Three units have experienced major problems in cooling radioactive material.

-March 14, 2011:

  • The magnitude of the earthquake upgraded from 8.9 to 9
  • An explosion at the Daiichi plant No. 3 reactor causes a building’s wall to fall, injuring six in the process.
  • Residents that have still remained, after being told to evacuate earlier, have been ordered to stay indoors.

-March 16, 2011:

  • A white cloud of smoke was seen above the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The nuclear safety agency, after investigating, found out the smoke was vapor from a spent-fuel storage pool
  • Emperor Akihito tells the nation to not give up hope and that “we need to understand and help each other.” A televised statement by an emperor is an extremely rare event in Japan, usually reserved for times of extreme crisis or war.

-March 18, 2011:

  • Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raises the threat level from four to five, which means there might be a release of radioactive material

-April 12, 2011:

  • Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raises the threat level from five to seven, which is the highest level and also signifies a major accident. It also means a major release of radioactive material that can affect health

Deaths and damage:

Officials confirmed that 28,500 people were either dead or still missing. As the search continued that number lessened to 19,300, as most of the people that were missing were found alive. The majority of those who were killed was by drowning, and over half of the victims were over 65 years’ old.

Most of the damaged was not caused by the tsunami wave, but by the earthquake.

Impact on Japans economy:

The earthquake, tsunami and a nuclear disaster also known as the “Triple Disaster” had badly affected Japans economy in 4 different ways:

  • The cost of damage:

The estimate to cover all the damage is about 360 million dollars. This estimate would make it the world’s costliest natural disaster.

The estimate includes damages from tall building to homes to roads but excludes all lost economic activity like power outages and the cost of damage of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

  • Electricity:

Second, Japan’s nuclear industry was destroyed as 11 of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors were closed after the disaster, which then reduced Japan’s electricity generation by 40%. By May 2012, officials closed all nuclear power plants to test and review. So, to replace the generation capacity, Japan had to import oil from other countries, which caused a trade deficient in Japan

  • GDP:

Third, Japan’s economy had quite recently begun to improve from 20 years of deflation and recession. Daiwa Capital Markets, a Japanese-owned bank, said Japan’s economy might be pushed into recession, as exports were hit badly.

  • Money:

Fourth, the Bank of Japan is preparing to pump billions of yen into the economy when it broadcasts an emergency “quake budget” to avoid this disaster wrecking the economy.

One of the bank’s priorities is to give commercial banks “soft” loans, so they do not run out of money as customers in the affected areas are quick to withdraw savings money.

Relief and building efforts:

In the first few hours after the earthquake, Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto set up an emergency command center in Tokyo, where a huge number of rescue workers were informed on how to rescue the people. Several countries offered their aid, some of which included Australia, China, India, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United States.

During the first few days the rescue team had freed people from the rubble, but as the days went on, the only thing they found were bodies that have washed ashore from having been swept out to the sea.

Hundreds of people were in shelters, after the disaster, often with limited amounts of food and water, while thousands were still standard or isolated in places that are hard to get to by rescue planes. Slowly people started to relocate to different areas of the country. Two weeks after the quake, millions of people were in shelters, but in the following mouths, that number had decreased. Two years after the disasters, the people left in the shelters were relocated into temporary housing, including hotels, housing units, or private homes.

In the weeks following the disaster, most of the transportations were restored, and repairs continued until all train lines and high were ready to be used. However, the region’s power supply was still affected by the Fukushima plant, which resulted in temporary power outages and rolling blackouts. However, by the late summer, the economy was growing again, and many of the affected businesses were able to resume with at least limited production.

A massive tsunami engulfing northeastern Honshu, Japan, on March 11, 2011.
Two of the damaged buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force in rescue and recovery operations.
Temporary shelter near Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, for victims of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.
A factory burns in northern Japan after the earthquake.



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