March 14, 2021

2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami

On March 11th of 2011, there was an earthquake off the coast of the Tōhoku region of Japan. Tōhoku is in the Northeast of that country. The earthquake itself, did a lot of damage, not least to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. 10 Years Later: The Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.

Specifically the center of the earthquake was off the coast of Honshu. It was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Japan had earthquake and tsunami infrastructure in place long before this event. It wasn't enough. By contrast, the areas of the US that could be (will be) subject to tsunami have almost no infrastructure in place.

Futoshi Toba is the mayor of Rikuzentakata.

[Futoshi Toba's] city was one of the hardest hit as waves up to 62-feet high swept through the port town. Nearly 2,000 men, women and children — almost one in 10 of Rikuzentakata’s residents— were killed on March 11, 2011, including Toba’s wife. More than 3,300 buildings there were completely or partially destroyed. The city’s center was swept into the sea.

Damage in Japan was astoundingly bad.

Total damage was estimated at $220 billion, making it the most expensive disaster in history. It was the largest magnitude earthquake ever in Japan and is the fourth largest in the world since 1900.

In many coastal towns, waves flooded to at least the third or fourth floor of buildings. An estimated 500,000 houses were completely or partial destroyed, and about 500,000 people displaced. More than 18,000 individuals lost their lives – nearly all from the relentless tsunami waves.

The damage wasn't limited to Japan, and Hawaii was hit with waves and 30.6 million dollars worth of damage.

Much has been said and written about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Most of it is sensational, and a lot of it is just wrong. As a result of all of that, people are still living as refugees, even though the scientific community thinks they should be allowed to go home. Fukushima Daiichi Accident (Updated March 2021)

The radiation levels in most of the evacuated areas were not greater than the natural radiation levels in high background areas elsewhere in the world where no adverse health effect is evident.

In its December 2018 report, the Fukushima prefectural government said that the number of ‘indirect’ deaths in the prefecture was greater than the number (1829) killed in the earthquake and tsunami. It put the figure then at 2259 (since revised up to 2313) as determined by municipal panels that examine links between the disaster’s aftermath and deaths.

Say that again. The government of Japan - with their mostly useless evacuation - killed 2313 people. All to remove them from areas where they would NOT encounter excessive radiation. Why? Why not follow the science? Because "Nuclear is bad." Or something.

As for the radiation, the piece I wrote at the time still serves best, The Banana Equivalent Dose, or Your Food is (always has been) Radioactive. Though it does highlight how out-of-date my education is.

And XKCD attempted to bring some sanity to the insanity by showing relative doses.

As I said at the time, and many times since: We can detect stupidly small amounts of radiation. Just because we can detect it, doesn't mean it is dangerous. It is like the difference between jumping off a chair, and jumping off a cliff. Just because we can measure the height, doesn't mean the fall will kill you

This is a long, 25 minutes or so, video, but it captures the scale of the disaster, even though it is limited to a tiny corner of the impacted region.

I could go on about the complete lack of infrastructure in the US around tsunamis, but I think I will just refer anyone who is interested to the following article. I have referenced it before. The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.

That article talks about the Cascadian subduction zone, and what will happen when it lets loose a large earthquake. The earthquakes come every 241 years on average.

In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America, outside of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which killed upward of a hundred thousand people. By comparison, roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy.

And not only are we doing nothing to prepare, we are making the problems worse with new construction.


  1. Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington)

    I'm not seeing the problem.

    1. You will be asked to pay for the cleanup

  2. After decades of watching where people build, the finger-crossing hope of never facing a natural disaster, and the total devastation after one occurs, it's apparent few really pay attention to the dangers. Even after these events, some try to return to the same area, which makes me shake my head.

    1. The first three years that there was a settlement at what is now New Orleans, each settlement was wiped out by a hurricane. I wouldn't been there past year 1, but who would have stayed after year 2?


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