Case study: Japan tsunami 2011

The 2011 tsunami breached sea defences at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station
The 2011 tsunami breached sea defences at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, leading to extensive damage

On Friday 11 March 2011 at 14:46:24, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred. It was at the point where the Pacific tectonic plate slides beneath the North American plate. The epicentre was 30 kilometres below the Pacific Ocean seabed and 129 km off the east coast of Honshu, Japan. This triggered a tsunami. High, powerful waves were generated and travelled across the Pacific Ocean. The area worst affected by the tsunami was the east coast of Honshu in Japan.

Main impacts


  • The waves travelled as far as 10 km inland in Sendai.
  • The tsunami flooded an area of approximately 561 square km.
  • Ports and airports in Sendai were damaged and closed.
  • The waves destroyed protective tsunami seawalls at several locations.
  • The massive surge destroyed three-storey buildings where people had gathered for safety.
  • A state of emergency was declared at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, where a cooling system failed and released radioactive materials into the environment.
  • In July 2013, TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, admitted that about 300 tons of radioactive water continued to leak from the plant every day into the Pacific Ocean.

Social and economic

  • Four years after the quake, around 230,000 people who lost their homes were still living in temporary housing.
  • The total damages from the earthquake and tsunami are estimated at $300 billion dollars (about 25 trillion yen).
  • The number of confirmed deaths as of 10 April 2015 is 15,891. More than 2,500 people are still reported missing.

Responses to the disaster

  • The country recently unveiled a newly-installed, upgraded tsunami warning system.
  • Earthquake engineers examined the damage, looking for ways to construct buildings that are more resistant to quakes and tsunamis. Studies are ongoing.
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