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The Tōhoku earthquake: Two years later

March 2013
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Today, March 11th, marks the second anniversary of the Tōhoku megathrust earthquake and tsunami that struck the east coast of northern Japan, killing an estimated 20,000 people and destroying or damaging over 1,000,000 buildings. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 9.03 M, took place on the seabed 70 km offshore, generating a tsunami that reached a height of 15 m in some locations. This was the largest recorded earthquake to hit Japan, and the fifth largest instrumentally recorded earthquake in history. The quake actually moved the earth’s axis about 7 cm, resulting in shortening the length of a day by 1.8 microseconds. The World Bank estimates the costs of damages at US $235 billion, the most costly natural disaster in human history.

Two years later, many residents of the affected areas have experienced great difficulty beyond the immediate tragedy. Many are still in temporary housing and the rate of recovery operations have been complicated by issues such as failure to allow people to rebuild in some of the affected areas and the clearing of others. Many people are experiencing the difficulty of needing to rebuild their homes, while still being stuck with the burden of needing to pay the mortgages on the destroyed ones. It is difficult to even consider when the lives of many will ever revert to some semblance of “normal.” For many, it never will. Of particular issue is the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant complex and its future ramifications for resettling the immediate area.

People have, by nature, an inability to accept the scope of such a disaster. It is difficult to conceive of such consequences from a single act of nature. Perhaps we should consider the human cost in one way that may let us appreciate its effects.

The median age of the population of Japan is 44.6 years. While this is strictly a rounding figure and may not be totally accurate for our considerations, it could be considered that each of the victims may have ab0ut 44 years of friends, family, loves, fears, and all of the other things that make up a lifetime. In this view,  the death of 20,000 people reflects a loss of 892,000 years of cumulative human experience, and maybe this is a perspective that makes such a disaster more easy to comprehend, and mourn…

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