Japan hit by catastrophic 8.9 magnitude quake, massive tsunami sweeps country

A catastrophic earthquake has struck Northern Japan, 150 miles off the coast. The quake hit on Friday, March 11, 2011 at 06:25:51 UTC, with a magnitude of 8.9. Frequent aftershocks at the time of this blog post. This is one one of the highest earthquakes ever recorded on earth. The quake is being described as roughly 1,000 times the size of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, in terms of total energy released. The USGS reports that this is the 5th strongest earthquake in the world since 1900.

The Pacific Tsunami Center has issued a warning not only for Japan, where a 10-meter (33 foot) high tsunami is already sweeping the country, but for the coast of Russia, Marcus Island, Guam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Marshall Island, Midway Island, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

Live coverage on CNN International, Al Jazeera, and NHK, is showing massive tsunami waves of debris, mud, and flame wiping out massive sections of coastline. We are watching people dying, swept up in these massive waves of mud and debris.

Here's a Reddit thread with relevant links. There is already a Wikipedia page: 2011 Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami. The Google Person Finder is available to help connect with missing loved ones. YouTube's Citizentube is curating raw videos from eyewitnesses.


  1. I was down in the subway tunnel waiting for a train when it hit. Everyone panicked and ran out!!

    In the end, though, it wasn’t so bad here in Tokyo. Looks like it was a lot worse in Miyagi. The aftershocks continued forever, though.

  2. There is a tsunami warning for the entire Pacific until 8am Eastern US time (5am West coast). Brace yourselves, Hawaiians.

  3. And I was just reading about the (much smaller) Earthquake today in Yunnan. Are the two possibly related?

  4. They should get the help they need, and hoping that earthquake code compliant buildings and tsunami warning training was common in this area.

    This type of emergency is why there should be more widespread satellite communication access. Hams like myself can use HF radio to get a message out but even the current amateur radio sats are fast pass low orbit toys good for experimentation but not real communications. Our last good satellite AO-40 went down due to a combination of battery issues and a orbital maneuver rocket engine explosion damage it had a great molinya orbit nearly as useful as a geostationary. You could use portable gear to get real health and welfare traffic out as well as coordinating other emcom traffic on the multiple user transponder.

    The next generation Eagle and Phase3E will be able to do far more with many transponders, one mode discussed was even a 100Mb/s router on C-band, that is quite a few concurrent emails and IM’s telling family who is OK and what assistance is required.

    At this point we cant stop earthquakes, but we can work harder to provide the tools to pick up the pieces.

  5. I have a close friend in Honshu. There are power and phone service outages and I have no idea when I’ll hear from her :/

  6. Today’s 5.4 earthquake in Yunnan severely damaged 18,000 houses and apartment buildings. That’s pretty shocking when you consider that we regularly have quakes that big in Southern California with no damage at all.

    1. As we’ve come to know in Christchurch, the distance from the quake and the depth make a big difference. That’s the reason the recent 6.3 quake here caused much more carnage than the 7.1 quake back in September. Of course property damage is largely dependent on building codes of which we’re pretty good with here in Chch. But then again you can get more modern buildings built on liquifiable land that collapse when other older and less well built ones survive. It’s so regional it’s scary. At our new house one half of the street has liquifaction from the quake and other other half has none. In some streets filled with liquefaction there are single houses with none whatsoever. There’s so much we don’t know about how these quakes affect the land.

    2. Obviously building codes, compliance, etc play their part but it’s worth bearing in mind that the Richter scale measures the quake’s total power, not how much it shakes the ground. The best indicator is peak ground acceleration, but you can’t measure that remotely.

      As apoxia said, epicentre depth is an important factor in causing damage, and the Yunnan quake was very shallow indeed (0.5 km according to the USGS). By comparison, the 6.3 Christchurch quake was at 5km depth which is also considered shallow.

    3. Sometimes the Richter magnitude alone is not enough. It also depends on how deep the quake was generated. A shallow 5.0 can generate great damage, comparable to a deeper 7.0.

      I’m writing from Chile, my sympathies to everyone at Japan.

  7. I’m in Saitama prefecture – we’re still getting aftershocks. I was at my elementary school when it hit. I dispensed a lot of hugs and reassurances that Mommy and Daddy are safe and sound.

  8. Alert Leve2 were just issued by the National Disaster Board in the Philippines. We pray that the Tsunami will spare our country. May GOD BLESS the WORLD.

  9. Yunnan is nearly 3,000 miles from Sendai. Just a coincidence; there are earthquakes around the globe every day. 8.9s, though, are obviously very rare. The tsunami really looks devastating — let’s hope that the low-lying atolls in the Pacific stay safe.

  10. A video of a huge and scary-looking whirlpool generated by colliding tsunami waves is on youtube:

    Also, my sister and nephew are 2 blocks from the inundation area forecast for Santa Cruz, though the current prediction is for tsunami waves of 4-7 ft, which doesn’t sound too bad (I hope)…

  11. Still no phone service in Tokyo. And no trains.

    Good thing I wasn’t at work today. The missus will probably have to sleep at the office. Boooo!

  12. What amazes me is the effect this has had. People Finder, Wikipedia, netservices and free services of various sorts working to organize info, photos and films. Just like that. Market-economy should be replaced with props-economy like this where we feel forced to do things for attention and appreciation.

  13. BBC breaking news ticker tape is reporting that there is a state of emergency at a Nuclear Plant in Japan with a failed reactor cooling.

  14. Still feeling some major aftershocks in Tokyo. All the locals say to expect them for the next 3 days here.

  15. I have a friend working in Tokyo. She can’t get home because trains are not running, and her company (a certain “red” database maker) basically told everyone to sleep at the office. Which is on the 26th floor of a humongous tower and has been shaking for more than an hour. Appalling.

  16. How horrible for the people of Japan…
    The scope and scale of the destruction in these photos is just hard to comprehend. I only hope that loss of life is low and recovery efforts are rapid for those in need.

  17. This has been a waking nightmare.

    We in Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto) have been relatively unaffected, but the northern region is in huge trouble. We felt it all the way down here – one of the largest quakes on record.

    Sendai has been leveled. Terrible news all day long. The Fukui nuclear reactor has been in danger of a meltdown, but it seems that the situation may be under control.

    For those of you who are unaware, the magnitude of this disaster is far greater than the Hanshin earthquake and has struck during the middle of the working day.

    The majority of news now is from Tokyo since it is the central location of the major media networks… but the northern areas have been terribly affected.

    I have a plea for everyone on boingboing: Please please keep things positive and lend us your support. I have a feeling that the real damage assessment has not yet begun.

    The Japanese are providing great examples already: Bic Camera has been handing out batteries for flashlights, restaurants handing out food, and vending machines (now that’s Japan!) dispensing free drinks. Osaka has dispatched a 600 strong fire brigade and Kyoto several groups of doctors.

    My family was lucky, but tonight as midnight approaches so many here have lost so much.

    Please keep Japan and it’s people in your thoughts today.

    1. You joke, but it’s not so malicious as you may think.

      There is today much more work to be done in Japan than there was yesterday,and that work can be an opportunity to rebuild an even better, even finer existence than was present prior to this tragedy.

      For an example of this, consider the town of Napier, New Zealand, devastated by a quake on 3 February 1931: they rebuilt, all of it in the art deco style of the day, and it’s all still there….


      I also take this opportunity to express my hopes and wishes that Japan recover fully and quickly from this terrible disaster.

      i am also very happy to see that their efforts at earthquake education and preparedness have apparently served to prevent the loss of life from being greater than it is.

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