The Tōhoku Earthquake

Image source: The Guardian; Photograph: Asahi Shimbun/ EPA

On March 11, 2011, a 9 magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Tohoku in Japan. It was the most powerful known earthquake to ever hit Japan and is in the top five most powerful earthquakes in the world since modern record keeping began. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40 metres in Iwate Prefecture and which, in Sendai, travelled up to 10km inland.

Six months later, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,878 deaths, 6,126 and 2,713 missing across 20 prefectures, as well as 129,225 buildings destroyed, a further 254,204 buildings damaged and 691,766 partially damaged.

Rikuzentakata  in southern Iwate Prefecture was one of the cities hardest hit by the 2011 Tsunami. Caught unprepared for an event of such magnitude, the city centre was virtually wiped off the map as the 13m high waves swept away the majority of the buildings and homes.

Save the Children reports that as many as 100,000 children were uprooted from their homes, some of whom were separated from their families because the earthquake occurred during the school day. A total of 236 children were orphaned in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima by the disaster; 1,580 children lost either one or both parents,[168] 846 in Miyagi, 572 in Iwate, and 162 in Fukushima. The quake and tsunami killed 378 elementary, middle-school, and high school students and left 158 others missing. One elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Okawa Elementary, lost 74 of 108 students and 10 of 13 teachers and staff.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry confirmed the deaths of 19 foreigners. Among them were two English teachers from the United States who worked with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme.

The tsunami resulted in over 340,000 displaced people in the Tohoku region, and shortages of food, water, shelter, medicine and fuel for survivors.

The tsunami caused nuclear meltdowns at three reactors in Fukushima and led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents.

The World Bank’s estimated economic cost was US$235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history.