15 Devastating Photos Of The Japanese Tsunami Disaster

Saturday marked the six year anniversary of the biggest disaster to ever hit Japan when a huge 9.0 earthquake, known as Tohoku-Oki, caused a massive Tsunami that devastated large portions of the country, especially along the Japanese coast. March 11, 2011, is a day that will live in infamy for the citizens who witnessed and experienced this tragedy.

There are no words to describe the devastation, and the heartbreak we all felt when witnessing these scenes unfold on that fateful day. To put it in perspective, let's have a look at some of the figures from this natural disaster, which was actually a triple whammy consisting of an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster.

According to The Coverage, the 9.0 earthquake was "the fifth largest in world history" with "600,000,000 times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb". There were also tons of foreshocks and aftershocks ranging from 6.0 to 7.2. Any of these alone would be considered a big earthquake in most parts of the world. "The quake moved the entire island of Japan 2.4 meters (8 feet) closer to North America and  shifted the Earth’s axis: 10 cm (4 in)."

The monstrous tsunami reached a peak height of 40.5 meters (133 feet), which is "equivalent to a 13 storey building" and covered a total land area of 561 kilometers(217 square miles). The tsunami made it inland up to 10 km (6 miles) and actually broke off 125 square kilometers  of icebergs in Antarctica. Residents were warned roughly eight minutes before the tsunami hit, so only about 42% evacuated and at least a hundred designated tsunami evacuation sites were also hit by the wave.

The tsunami waves that hit the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant were 15 meters high (49 feet) and helped cause three full nuclear meltdowns, releasing radiation into the air and sea. The severity of the Fukushima catastrophe was listed as a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, which is the maximum.

Finally, the "estimated cost of the disaster was $300 billion (biggest in world history)", with 45,700 buildings destroyed, along with 230,000 cars and trucks, and worst of all, "15,828 deaths and 3,760 people missing."

Let's now have a look at some of the most shocking photos from this horrific tragedy.

15 Black Water

Most of the devastating images from that tragic day were seen on various news outlets around the world. They showed black water crashing over the floodwalls and rushing into the streets of Miyako in the Iwate prefecture, sweeping cars away and capsizing a large fishing ship before dragging it under a bridge.

"Only about 30–60 boats survived from the town's 960 ship fishing fleet. A subsequent field study by the University of Tokyo's Earthquake research Institute revealed that the waters had reached at least 37.9 metres (124 ft) above sea level, almost equaling the 38.2 metres (125 ft) meter record of the 1896 Sanriku earthquake tsunami. The final reported death toll from the disaster was 420 confirmed dead, 92 missing, and 4005 buildings destroyed," according to Wikipedia.

14 Boat On Top Of Hotel

The city of Otsuchi in Iwate Japan was one of many that was hit by the powerful force of the waves. According to Wikipedia, "the tsunami obliterated the harbor and low-lying areas, while higher parts of the town were spared, though they did suffer damage from the earthquake and the many aftershocks. About half the city was inundated by the tsunami, which destroyed all but 30 of 650 fishing boats and completely wiped out the town's sea farm industry.

City firemen manually closed the 12 water gates in the port's tsunami wall, but the wall was unable to hold back the waves. Eight city firemen were dead or missing. As of 31 August 2011, 799 residents of the town were confirmed dead, with 608 others still missing,[about 10% of the town's total population of 16,000." 

The town's mayor, Koki Kato, was also a victim, as was this sightseeing boat called the Hama Yuri and the tourist hotel it used to rest upon.

13 Onagawa Cemetary

A large portion of Onagawa was basically wiped out. "Onagawa was one of the most heavily damaged by Tohoku. The tsunami reached in excess of 15 metres (49 ft) in height and swept 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) inland, claiming 827 lives and destroying 70% of the buildings in the town. At least 12 of the town's 25 designated evacuation sites were inundated by the tsunami. Six reinforced concrete buildings in the town of up to 4 stories in height were overturned by the force of the surging water and debris and Onagawa Station and its nearby railway tracks were also destroyed," according to Wikipedia.

There were countless photos of the havoc throughout the city, but the aerial views of the cemetery with all of the cars and trains on top of the tombstones is hard to forget.

12 Man Walking His Dog

This is what some neighborhoods looked like in the wake of the tsunami in the Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. This was not a good place to be that day, as "large parts of the city were destroyed by the tsunami. The island of Oshima and its 3,000 residents, included in the city limits, was isolated by the tsunami. The city had confirmed 837 deaths with 1,196 missing." Oil spills created fires which burned for days.

In the aftermath, you could see large piles of debris, metal, wood, cars and houses all mashed together, forming these mountains of rubble alongside paths that rescuers created to get access to the hardest hit areas of town.

11 Whirlpools

Shortly after the tsunami that ploughed its way into Japan's coastline began to recede back into the ocean, a series of whirlpools developed just offshore. Several whirlpools were visible from Oarai, Ibaraki to Iwaki City. According to the Dailymail,  "As the water levels fell, whirlpools hundreds of yards wide appeared, sucking everything into the themselves and creating new danger.

Whirlpools are created by rising and falling water - and are a common feature of tsunamis. After a tsunami, the water drains away quite rapidly and if there are channels close to the shore then you can get these whirlpools forming. As the waves recede, it creates this spinning water."

10 Water Sweeping Inland

More iconic photos and videos were taken in the Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture where water swept its way inland going over, around and through anything in its path, including bridges and rivers.

The city lost 180 of its residents that day, mostly from the powerful force of the water gaining momentum through the streets and landscape in surrounding areas. People had very little time to react to the flooding, with the lucky ones managing to make it to elevated areas, including taller buildings in town.

The train station wasn't as lucky, as it was obliterated and shattered by the forces of nature, leaving a fleet of trains in pieces alongside the tracks, which weren't left in good shape either.

9 News Reporter Swept Away

Another shocking image from the 2011 tsunami is that of Toya Chiba, "a reporter for local newspaper Iwate Tokai Shimbun," who was "swept away by the tsunami as he was reporting at Kamaishi port, Iwate prefecture. Chiba managed to survive by grabbing a dangling rope and climbing onto a coal heap," according to IBtimes.

Fortunately, Mr. Chiba survived, but it was an epic scene caught on tape. For many others, they were not as fortunate, as they were either caught on the streets, or in their cars when the tidal wave of water came screaming in their direction with no time to react, or place to go. Many of those caught in these types of situations didn't survive as they either drowned, or collided with large objects caught in the powerful current.

8 Sendai Airport

Another shocking scene was captured at the Sendai airport as cars, airplanes and everything you can imagine all came together to form an endless pile of debris. The place literally looked like a warzone.

According to Wikipedia, "The airport was first damaged by the earthquake and then badly flooded by the subsequent tsunami. In addition to submerging the tarmac, taxiways and runway, the floodwaters reached up to parts of the 2nd level of the passenger terminal, rendering electrical equipment, transformers and safety equipment inoperable. Some 1300 people were stranded within the terminal until 13 March, when they were evacuated. By 17 March military engineers partially opened the airport for tsunami response flights."

Hard to imagine being one of those frightened, helpless bystanders looking on in horror from inside the terminal at the carnage unfolding outside, and up to the 2nd level of the terminal itself.

7 Fighter Jet

Speaking of airports, and planes being tossed around like toys,  the Matsushima Air Base in Higashi-Matsushima city was also the scene of total mayhem, including the entire city, as well. The city "was severely hit by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami resulting in at least 1,039 deaths, and the destruction of over 11,000 structures, or approximately two-thirds of the buildings in the city limits," according to Wikipedia.

In this photo, a Mitsubishi F-2 fighter jet was carried by the tsunami into a building, at the Matsushima Air Base. Not only were the planes affected, but just like most of the other coastal towns, many boats and large ships were pushed from the sea into the city, creating unimaginable scenes of destruction.

6 Colorful Oil Leaks

Countless boats were capsized or turned completely upside down by the tsunami all over Japan, including these ones pictured in Fudai Village, Iwate Prefecture, leaving a trail of colorful oil leaks in their wake. These pools of oil gathered around the boats, adding another element to this environmental disaster.

Between the oil and the radiation alone, Japan was faced with a monumental task in clean-up and recovery efforts that continue to this day. The overall scale of the damage to the environment put costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. The entire world is still feeling the effects of Tohoku, especially the Japanese, of course.

5 Fukushima Radiation

One of the most alarming photos on the list is not from the scenes of the carnage left by Tohoku and the tsunami, but of the spread of radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, particularly in the ocean.

Officials are having a difficult time containing the leak as it continues to spread to this day, and it's getting worse. In fact, according to Zerohedge, "it's still leaking 300 tons of radioactive waste into the Pacific ocean everyday. It will continue to do so indefinitely as the source of the leak cannot be sealed as it is inaccessible to both humans and robots due to extremely high temperatures. it should come as no surprise then, that Fukushima has contaminated the entire Pacific ocean."

Many experts feel that this is "the worst environmental disaster in human history", and it is not getting the media attention it desperately needs. The United States and Canada have been feeling the effects since at least 2013, with many fish and marine life suffering from contamination.

4 Car On Top Of Buildings

We've already seen a boat on the roof of a hotel, now we have a car on top of a building in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture. Actually, there are numerous photos of cars left on rooftops after the tsunami waters receded. What makes this one particularly shocking is that it shows you just how high the water levels were at their peak. It also shows how powerful the force of water was, as everything was either destroyed or displaced with such ease.

The town of Minamisanriku suffered tremendously as they lost about 95% of the town and 1,206 of the residents were killed, or went missing. According to one survivor, "The entire town was simply swept away. It just no longer exists."

3 Buddha

As we previously mentioned, the town of Sendai was one of many in the path of the tsunamis that was completely devastated. Not much remained the following day as the town was basically razed to the ground.

There are endless scenes of destruction from the aerial shots of Sendai proper, but one amazing photo that captured not only the pounding it took, but of the hope and faith of the people, was that of a massive Buddha statue that seemingly remained in tact, but like everything else, was displaced from its original location.

Here we see the Buddha smiling and basking in the sunshine in the calm after the storm. It's a sentimental reminder of the resilience of the Japanese, as no other people are better at recovering from such a sad and tragic event as the Japanese themselves.

2 Houses In The Ocean

Another reminder of the insanity from the biggest earthquake and tsunami to ever hit Japan are the houses being swept out to sea. Sometimes the houses would still be on fire as they set off into the distance, other times we would see entire neighborhoods floating away into the horizon.

Here we see an example of those traumatic scenes in Natori, Fukushima prefecture, which was another 'ground zero' caught in the path of the monstrous tidal waves. There were also situations where people, who were still in their houses, being pulled out to sea. Most people perished, while some managed to latch on to large pieces of debris and waited to be rescued.

1 Shipwrecks

Apart from all the debris and total destruction, one of the most common sights throughout the tsunami hit areas of Japan were all the shipwrecks. We're not talking about boats, although there were many of those too, but actual ships. Huge ships stuck where the waters eventually left them to rest on their own.

It was quite a challenge to find a single shocking photo of one of these behemoths as you could have an entire book full of them, but this photo of a ship in Kesennuma gives you an idea of Mother Nature's fury.

There were boats and ships scattered all over Kesennuma and in just about every town that was affected. There are also some impressive photos of other shipwrecks in Onagawa, Kamaishi and Hachinohe, just to name a few.

Sources: Wikipedia.org; IBTimes; The Coverage

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