The 3.11 Disasters
On Friday, 11 March 2011, at 2.46pm, an earthquake of magnitude 9 occurred 70 kilometres off Japan’s north-eastern coast. It was the strongest ever recorded in Japan.1 All over eastern Japan buildings shuddered violently, clearing bookshelves, knocking over tables and counters, and ripping out built-in furniture. Those who fled found the pavements buckling and crumbling beneath their feet, the asphalt undulating strongly enough to knock them to the ground. The earthquake knocked out electricity, gas and water supplies, and severely disrupted telecommunications. Even in Tokyo, several hundred kilometres away from the epicentre, high-rise buildings swayed and public transportation was paralyzed, forcing millions of people to walk home in the small hours. At a major landfill project in Urayasu, just east of Tokyo, the earth was liquidized, leaving hundreds of houses tilting alarmingly. In nearby Ichihara an oil refinery caught fire and blazed for days.
Remarkably, the earthquake itself caused relatively few fatalities. A precise count of how many houses were destroyed by the earthquake and how many by the tsunami is impossible, but one estimate2 suggests that 268 people were killed by the shaking, mostly crushed in collapsed buildings, and another 165 died in fires and landslides. Though bad enough, these death tolls are very low for such a major earthquake. With a long history ← 3 | 4 → of earthquakes and sophisticated technology and infrastructure to resist them, Japan was well prepared. Most buildings remained standing; all the bullet trains had built-in earthquake...
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