Double Whammy: Japan's Nightmare

Mar 13, 2011 By Arati Rao
Arati Rao's picture

In the afternoon of a working day, March 11, 2011, life changed for Japan.

The worst ever earthquake in Japanese history struck off the coast of the northeastern city of Sendai, on the island of Honshu.

The quake measured 8.9 on the Richter scale (a scale that measures earthquake intensity), powerful enough to shake buildings 400 km away in the capital city of Tokyo. But the nightmare was yet to come.

The nightmare from the sea

The earthquake happened out at sea and it triggered a tsunami.

Tsunami is a Japanese word meaning “harbor wave.” It is a body of water that is born near the epicenter of an earthquake. When it reaches land, this wall can be several meters high. In Japan's case, a 10-meter high wall raced towards the areas around Sendai.

The northeastern coastline of Japan was altered completely by the tsunami, as it swept inland taking everything – houses, cars, and boats – with it. More than the quake itself, the tsunami that followed has created untold damage. The full extent of Japanese loss is still unknown. Moreover, the tsunami and earthquake might have damaged nuclear reactors – and that is an ongoing story we are watching.

How is a tsunami formed?

Earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic activity – anything that displaces water, can cause a tsunami. Not all earthquakes generate tsunamis. First of all, it has to have its epicenter (the point where the earthquake actually happens) underwater. And even then, all underwater earthquakes do not result in tsunamis. This makes predicting tsunamis difficult.

The earth’s crust is full of “tectonic plates” on which continents sit and shift. When one tectonic plate butting up to the other moves and subducts (dives under the other plate) or pushes the other plate up, an earthquake is created.

If this happens underwater, the energy released by the movement of the earth's crust is transferred to the water. This could result in a wave. The wave is not very high at sea – but is very long. These waves have a lot of energy and can travel at almost 800 km per hour as they race towards land. When this “displaced water” reaches shallow coastal areas, the wall increases in height (all that water traveling from the deep ocean in a wave has to go somewhere). It slams onto land causing devastation and heavy flooding.

Tsunami warning: seek higher ground!

There are tsunami-warning stations all along the coast of Japan and throughout the Pacific Ocean.  These warnings allow people in low-lying areas to escape to higher ground if there is the threat of a tsunami. It is likely that a lot of people in Japan on March 11, did that. But the tsunami that came was very, very big and powerful and has still managed to cause a whole lot of damage and loss.

How can we help?

The Japanese Prime Minister has called it the worst crisis Japan has faced since WWII, and has asked for help. People and countries around the world are helping. Ask your school or local community how you can join efforts to help the tsunami victims in Japan.


angelinag2's picture
angelinag2 August 9, 2014 - 12:59pm

I would be scared there because you're always in danger.
Interesting how Tsunami forms.

kenn's picture
kenn May 28, 2011 - 6:05am

I feel sad for Japan. I hope another earthquake doesn't hit.

cheyanner's picture
cheyanner April 11, 2011 - 5:05am
I hate when things happen that you know you try to stop but can't . This is real terrible for japan/ all the people that lost their love ones :( , just keep them in your heart and they will always be with you !
cheyanner's picture
cheyanner April 11, 2011 - 5:02am

This was very devastating. Something like this should be tried the very best not to be caused. I hope a lot of people found their loved ones, because I know how it feels . I just recently lost my grandpa . However it was very devastating . I didn't want to see him go. Imagine how many people got lost in this nightmare ! :'(

sierrar's picture
sierrar May 27, 2011 - 3:22pm
I really agree CheyanneR
arotella's picture
arotella March 22, 2011 - 10:26am

i feel really bad about japan. poor japanese people

ryanp's picture
ryanp March 21, 2011 - 5:00am
this is not good at all
Armaan's picture
Armaan March 20, 2011 - 5:36pm
There was a tornado warning yesterday, and I was freaked out. The Japanese had to deal with a sudden wave of water obliterating their houses. Imagine how they felt.
Armaan's picture
Armaan March 20, 2011 - 5:35pm
At least no other country was affected.
diamond's picture
diamond March 20, 2011 - 4:04pm
was this the most fierce in the whole world or just in japan
diamond's picture
diamond March 20, 2011 - 4:02pm
since japan is the home to most auto parts , pianos,phones and other important things we need
diamond's picture
diamond March 20, 2011 - 4:00pm
japan was all over the news!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sammy02's picture
Sammy02 March 20, 2011 - 2:58am
Some news items say that the next place to be affected by an earthquake is California which is located at the fault line. When it is due, is an unknown fact, but it could happen anytime.
vu12's picture
vu12 March 20, 2011 - 4:05pm
They said an earthquake would happen here (in the Bay Area) yesterday but it didn't so I'm happy... for now.
zlin's picture
zlin March 19, 2011 - 9:36am

lots of earthquake happened in this year

Armaan's picture
Armaan March 18, 2011 - 6:26pm

The radiation did nothing.

Arjun's picture
Arjun March 18, 2011 - 5:24pm

Japan has set up relief shelters for people to write their names and communicate with their missing loved ones, on paper. It's the best they can do for now. Our school is setting up a "1000 cranes" donation that we will send to Japan. If we buy a crane for 5 dollars, we can color it in, and write a message. I hope it will make a difference, and my heart goes out to them.

vu12's picture
vu12 March 20, 2011 - 4:07pm
That's really cool. The leadership class in my school organizes these sorts of things and they're thinking of starting a project.
Sammy02's picture
Sammy02 March 18, 2011 - 2:43am
More and more broken families...Loads of suffering...Hope they all come out of this disaster and begin a happy (doubtful) life again.
zlin's picture
zlin March 17, 2011 - 8:46pm

scary to live there, i would have a nightmare every day

emaude's picture
emaude March 17, 2011 - 5:43pm
when i heard about it i was awestruck and sad this is terrible i am glad i wasnt there but sad for those that were
emaude's picture
emaude March 17, 2011 - 5:41pm
i heard about this on the news this is such a terrible tragedy and i wish the best of luck to anyone that was there
zlin's picture
zlin March 17, 2011 - 10:32am

100 feet i would be freaked out.. it's been all over the news.

Mercier Magic's picture
Mercier Magic March 17, 2011 - 10:16am

I wonder what happened to the boat that went in the whirlpool?

Mercier Magic's picture
Mercier Magic March 17, 2011 - 10:10am

The japan shelter are filled.. lot of people now stay there as people need to stay away from nuc plant

Sammy02's picture
Sammy02 March 16, 2011 - 9:59pm
They are living on 5 liters a day which can last them for cooking and drinking, but not bathing. This was the case a few days ago.
Matthew14's picture
Matthew14 March 16, 2011 - 4:50pm
I saw this on the news. There was this one aerial video of a sprawling town that was once packed full of residents, but now there are no buildings at all and NO PEOPLE. It's pretty serious, especially the radiation.
checkmate's picture
checkmate March 16, 2011 - 11:05am
i am glad they are getting cancer nuke pills
alyssah's picture
alyssah March 16, 2011 - 7:51am

i like this article just so i can know more about it! but it is sad though

Ian's picture
Ian March 16, 2011 - 5:57am
I saw videos and stuff online... The nuclear reactor exploded, and released radiation... It's really serious.
Armaan's picture
Armaan March 15, 2011 - 8:02pm
The earthquake wasn't that bad, if you factor in the distance.
Armaan's picture
Armaan March 15, 2011 - 8:02pm
Now nuclear accidents
jschaefer's picture
jschaefer March 15, 2011 - 8:51am

First Haiti and now Japan but I hope that we can do something like give money to Japan. I know that people like celebrities and my school did something about Haiti we donated money to the red cross and I hope we can do the same.

Arjun's picture
Arjun March 15, 2011 - 7:09am

Japan will need help quickly, after a series of natural and man-made disasters. The Japanese prime minister is right in saying this is the worst crisis from world war II.

ryanp's picture
ryanp March 15, 2011 - 6:32am
wow japan is going down
Sammy02's picture
Sammy02 March 15, 2011 - 12:54am
Even the most sophisticated technology stands no chance over the forces of nature.
Sammy02's picture
Sammy02 March 15, 2011 - 12:51am
Whenever an earthquake strikes anywhere in this world, one of the first to ever provide aid to that affected country is Japan. Likewise, all countries are trying to help Japan sort out this crisis. This shows that the when you help others, double that help is returned when you need it.
Genna's picture
Genna March 14, 2011 - 7:47pm
who heard that Hawaii had a small quake??? I found out cuz my cousin lives there. He was pretty far away at the time so all he really felt was his chair shaking a little.
Rap's picture
Rap March 14, 2011 - 5:17pm
It's really bad! Earthquake, then tsunami, and then damaged nuclear reactors!
Matthew14's picture
Matthew14 March 14, 2011 - 1:03pm
Did you know the earthquake moved Japan's coast 8 inches and shifted the Earth's axis about 2 inches???
Genna's picture
Genna March 14, 2011 - 7:39pm
Really?? I heard it was 8 feet.... not inches.. hmmmmm, I will have to look that up.
vu12's picture
vu12 March 14, 2011 - 4:08pm
yeah, it may seem small, but it's really a lot
Zohar's picture
Zohar March 14, 2011 - 12:29pm
That is so terrible. At least Japan is a developed nation, so it can respond better, as opposed to somewhere like Haiti, which is a poorer country.
vu12's picture
vu12 March 14, 2011 - 4:10pm
Yeah, that's true. Some other nations would have crumbled very early on.
Kimmie's picture
Kimmie March 14, 2011 - 11:41am

its sad hope u get better JAPAN

alyssah's picture
alyssah March 14, 2011 - 11:10am

dang.. i heard about all that in the united states and i heard the tsunami is coming to us.... (around us). I don't know if this is true or not. Comment back if it is coming to us.

brandonr's picture
brandonr March 14, 2011 - 10:46am

that really sucks for japan i wonder if its going to take forever to get it all cleaned up

taytumm's picture
taytumm March 14, 2011 - 8:50am

that is amazing that there are still people alive but it is sad that people are not alive:( i hope japan will become its self again

Genna's picture
Genna March 14, 2011 - 8:31am
my prayers are with the Japanese people, God be with them.
vu12's picture
vu12 March 13, 2011 - 10:12pm
That's really sad. :( I saw the tsunami on the news; it looked like a giant mud wave. I will ask my school to see what we are doing to help Japan.