On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake shook northeastern Japan, unleashing a savage tsunami. The total damages from the earthquake and tsunami are estimated at $300 billion dollars (about 25 trillion yen), according to the Japanese government. Residents of Tokyo received a minute of warning before the strong shaking hit the city, thanks to Japan's earthquake early warning system. Less than an hour after the earthquake, the first of many tsunami waves hit Japan's coastline. The tsunami caused a cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which resulted in a level-7 nuclear meltdown and release of radioactive materials.
More than 5,000 aftershocks hit Japan in the year after the earthquake, the largest a magnitude 7.9. In Norway, water in fjords pointing toward Japan sloshed back and forth as seismic waves from the earthquake raced through. Buildings destroyed by the tsunami released thousands of tons of ozone-destroying chemicals and greenhouse gases into the air.
This is an aerial view of damage to Sukuiso, Japan, a week after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area in March, 2011.


Radioactive water was recently discovered leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which suffered a level 7 nuclear meltdown after the tsunami. That record goes to the 2004 Banda Aceh earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra, a magnitude-9.1, which killed more than 230,000 people. The tsunami waves reached run-up heights (how far the wave surges inland above sea level) of up to 128 feet (39 meters) at Miyako city and traveled inland as far as 6 miles (10 km) in Sendai. The electrical power and backup generators were overwhelmed by the tsunami, and the plant lost its cooling capabilities.
In Chile, some 11,000 miles (17,000 km) distant, the tsunami was 6.6 feet (2 meters) high when they reached the shore, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Japan relies on nuclear power, and many of the country's nuclear reactors remain closed because of stricter seismic safety standards since the earthquake.
But Japan's one-two punch proved especially devastating for the earthquake-savvy country, because few scientists had predicted the country would experience such a large earthquake and tsunami. People in Japan also received texted alerts of the earthquake and tsunami warnings on their cellphones. The tsunami flooded an estimated area of approximately 217 square miles (561 square kilometers) in Japan.


In July 2013, TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, admitted that about 300 tons of radioactive water continues to leak from the plant every day into the Pacific Ocean. In some regions, such as Miyagi and Fukushima, only 58 percent of people headed for higher ground immediately after the earthquake, according to a Japanese government study published in August 2011.
Teams studied the tsunami deposits to better understand ancient sediment records of the deadly waves. Many people also underestimated their personal risk, or assumed the tsunami would be as small as ones they had previously experienced, the study found. Earthquake engineers examined the damage, looking for ways to build buildings more resistant to quakes and tsunamis. In the decade before the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, a handful of Japanese geologists had begun to recognize that a large earthquake and tsunami had struck the northern Honshu region in 869. Now, tsunami experts from around the world have been asked to assess the history of past tsunamis in Japan, to better predict the country's future earthquake risk.



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