Biggest quake in Japanese history triggers widespread destruction and nuclear threat

13 March, 2011
JAPAN: Earthquake and Tsunami situation map as of 11 March, 2011. Credit: OCHA/ReliefWeb
JAPAN: Earthquake and Tsunami situation map as of 11 March, 2011. Credit: OCHA/ReliefWeb

On 11 March 2011, the biggest earthquake on record in Japan triggered a devastating, 10-metre high tsunami that caused widespread destruction along the north-eastern coast. The Government of Japan has mobilized thousands of troops, planes and ships for an emergency response operation.

The government has also declared a state of emergency due to the threat posed by reactors in two nuclear power plants in Fukushima. On 13 March there was an explosion at Nuclear Power Plant No. 1. Over 200,000 residents living in a 20 kilometre area around the plants have been evacuated. Authorities are working to cool the nuclear reactors and the government says there is no immediate health risk.

The United Nations Secretary-General has expressed his deepest sympathies and says the UN will stand by the people of Japan and do everything it can to help. Major humanitarian needs include food, drinking water, blankets, fuel and medical items. A number of countries have offered assistance, the Red Cross has sent relief teams, and a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has arrived in Tokyo to assist with urban search and rescue as well as environmental hazard analysis.

Continuing aftershocks, fires and tsunami waves are hampering rescue efforts. Many tsunami-affected areas remain inaccessible. Up to three metre high waves continue to hit the coastline, and there have been at least 79 aftershocks in the region since the first 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit. The aftershocks have included 16 that had a magnitude greater than 6.0.

The government has reported 1,600 casualties with 10,000 people missing. According to the Government of Japan, over 2,000 buildings have been destroyed and some 11,000 damaged. Hundreds of roads, seven railways, and 43 bridges are damaged or washed away. However, the level of destruction is still unclear and the death toll is expected to rise significantly.

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