A Look Back at the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Today, March 11th, marks the 3rd anniversary of the 2011 Japan Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. This was the most powerful earthquake to ever hit the country, with a magnitude of 9.0. The earthquake was so strong, that it moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) 8 feet east, and shifted the Earth on its axis between 10 and 25cm! Following the earthquake was a powerful tsunami, with waves reported up to 133 feet high.

Waves pushed this boat on top of a building seen here after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. (Photo by: Athit Perawongmetha, AP)
Waves pushed this boat on top of a building seen here after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. (Photo by: Athit Perawongmetha, AP)

Thankfully, one minute before the earthquake was felt in Tokyo, the Earthquake Early Warning system sent out warnings of the impending quake to millions of people, potentially saving numerous lives. In the end though, over 15,000 lives were lost to the earthquake and tsunami, along with another 6,000 injured residents and 127,000 buildings completely destroyed. The World Bank estimated that the economic cost of damages was over $235 billion (USD), making it the costliest natural disaster in world history. Architectural and structural damage played a large part in these costs, as many roads and railways were severely impacted. Furthermore, the tsunami caused major destruction to the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing at least three nuclear reactors to explode due to a build-up of hydrogen gas on the outer containment buildings after the cooling system failed. Three years later, there are still tens of thousands of people who have been unable to return to their homes around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, and some scientists have warned that certain areas may have to be abandoned altogether. It wasn’t just one element that Japan had to face on March 11, 2011, it was three – earth, water and nuclear – which left an incredible amount of ruin and destruction.

After the earthquake and tsunami, people wanted to reach out to their loved ones as soon as possible. It quickly became clear that telecommunications took a major hit. Cellular and landline phone services were down in many areas as people tried to reach their loved ones and get help. The internet for the most part, was functioning normally, acting as the critical backbone for people to communicate after the disaster. Social media also played a huge role in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, as people took to social media to post pictures, videos, and updates, and find out information on their loved ones.

For ePACT, the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami is an event we hold close to our heart. The inspiration for ePACT came from our good friend Ayumi, who was separated from her two daughters during the natural disaster. Ayumi, who was in Tokyo on business on that fateful day, lived in Fukushima, where her two daughters were at the time of the earthquake and tsunami. When the earthquake hit, Ayumi tried desperately to reach her parents who were caring for her daughters, but text messaging, cell phone and landline calls were all halted. A full 24 hours after the earthquake and tsunami, Ayumi was relieved to receive an email from her mother who had collected her daughters during the crisis. Two days later, Ayumi’s family was able to travel to Tokyo and reunite. This story is what motivated Christine and Kirsten to build ePACT – for the opportunity to prevent this type of experience for any family facing an emergency, big or small.

The before and after of Sendai Airport. Left: March 11, 2011. Right: March 4th, 2013. (Photo by: Kyodo News)
The before and after of Sendai Airport. Left: March 11, 2011. Right: March 4th, 2013. (Photo by: Kyodo News)

Three years later, while much recovery has been done to build cities and communities back up, aftershocks and uncertainties of the Nuclear Power Plant have left many scars on the region. Radiation from the site is so strong, that it has even reached the West Coast over the last few weeks.

Despite the fact that the earthquake and tsunami occurred miles away from us, it will continue to serve as a reminder of the brute force of mother nature, especially along the West Coast and within the Ring of Fire region. It emphasizes the importance of preparedness, because you never know when or where you’ll be during an emergency. To contribute to the survivors in Japan who are still in need, visit the Red Cross to find out how you can help.


ePACT is the single emergency record and support network for families, and the emergency preparedness and response standard for organizations. By leveraging the power of online networking, ePACT brings organizations and families together to share critical information, plan collectively and communicate before, during and after any emergency. Sign up today to better connect and protect your family and organization through any crisis!

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