Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 12 Month Report
Period covered by this Operations Update: 11 March 2011 – 26 April 2012
The General Situation
2011 was a year that changed the lives of many in Japan especially for those in the north eastern (Tohoku) coastal region of the main island of Honshu. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake, followed by a massive tsunami took the lives of nearly 19,000 people and left their loved ones with numbness and sorrow. The tsunami is estimated to have risen to 40 meters at the highest point, devastating towns and cities. The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (GEJET) was the fourth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900, after the Chilean Earthquake in 1960 (9.5 magnitude), the Alaska Earthquake in 1964 (9.2 magnitude) and the Sumatra Earthquake in 2004 (9.1 magnitude). The enormous tsunami was caused by a shift at the bottom of the sea of approximately 24 meters horizontally. The destruction by the tsunami stretched 700 km along the coast and inundated 561 square kilometers. The immense damage across Tohoku was largely due to its geography, where the coast is mountainous and the people live in narrow river valleys and flat lands near the ocean. Thus, it was the tsunami much more than the earthquake which brought the large number of fatalities to the region: 90% of the deaths were due to drowning. As of 25 April, the confirmed number of dead is 15,857 and 3,057 are still accounted for.
Due to the massive earthquake and tsunami, 129,500 houses were totally destroyed, and 256,324 houses were partially destroyed. The estimated economic damage of the disaster totals more than JPY16 trillion (USD 200 billion).
As a result of the main quake and the ensuing tsunami, three reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were severely damaged, with large radiation emissions. One month after 3.11, the government declared the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant as a disaster of level 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES)1, the same as that of the 1986 Chernobyl crisis. The government created a 20 kilometer radius exclusion zone around the plant, from which the residents were evacuated. In addition, the evacuation of those living within 30 km, as well as those in some sites further out, began two months after 3.11 on 15 May. Both central and local governments are still struggling to decontaminate parts of the region which also contain radioactivity inside the plants.
Aftershocks continued to create anxiety, not only among the people in the three most-affected prefectures, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, but also across the nation and especially in the ten other prefectures close by. Some 826 shakes with an intensity of more than 4.0 were recorded within 33 hours after the first shake on 3.11; more than 70% of shakes that occurred in the previous year.
A snapshot on 28 March 2011 shows approximately 200,000 households were left without electricity due to a large scale blackout, 360,000 were without gas and 652,000 households were without water supplies. The destruction of 2,000 transmission stations for mobile phones led to a lack of access to information and contact with loved ones which left many further in the dark, both literally and emotionally.