On Friday, 11 March 2011 14:46 JST, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit Japan off the Pacific coast of Tohoku (known as the 2011 To-hoku earthquake or the Great East Japan Earthquake).
It was the most powerful known earthquake to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world overall since modern record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake triggered extremely destructive tsunami waves of up to 40.5 meters (133 ft) in Miyako, Iwate, To-hoku.
In addition to loss of life and destruction of infrastructure, the tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the ongoing level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant complex, and the associated evacuation zones affecting hundreds of thousands of residents.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, “In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan.”
The Japanese National Police Agency has confirmed:
- 15,597 deaths
- 5,694 injured
- 4,980 people missing across eighteen prefectures
- over 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed
The earthquake and tsunami caused extensive and severe structural damage in Japan, including heavy damage to roads and railways as well as fires in many areas, and a dam collapse. Around 4.4 million households in northeastern Japan were left without electricity and 1.5 million without
At least three nuclear reactors suffered explosions due to hydrogen gas that had built up within their outer containment buildings after cooling system failure. Residents within a 20 km (12 mi) radius of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and a 10 km (6.2 mi) radius of the Fukushima II
Nuclear Power Plant were evacuated. In addition, the U.S. recommended that its citizens evacuate up to 80 km (50 mi) of the plant.
Early estimates placed insured losses from the earthquake alone at US$14.5 to $34.6 billion. The Bank of Japan offered ¥15 trillion (US$183 billion) to the banking system on 14 March in an effort to normalize market conditions. The overall cost could exceed US$300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record.