I know there has been a lot of stuff written about the Japan 9.0 earthquake of March 11 2011 but I have had a lot of people ask me why so many people got caught up in it and how it happened. Apparently I am an expert or something so here goes my take on the whole thing.
Japan has been expecting a big earthquake for some time. There have been rumblings that we have been watching and the writing was on the wall so to speak. But did you know the start of all of this was not the giant 9.0 quake that rolled through that winter morning? It wasn’t, the 9.0 was actually a very strong aftershock from an earthquake 2 days earlier(see below). Yes on March 9 there was a 7.2 earthquake in almost the same spot of the ocean floor and it was a 7 to 7.5 earthquake that was expected so once this 7.2 happened everyone thought that was the big quake. It had a tsunami and was having the expected aftershocks and everything that was designed to handle the expected 7+ earthquake work perfectly. No problems with flooding because the walls that protected everyone worked perfectly and no damage happened at any plants or big buildings everything was working perfectly; even the reactors in the local nuclear plants were all designed for and handled perfectly the earthquake they were designed to handle, pats on the back all round.
But then the massive 9.0 earthquake hit. But there were problems, for one the quake was not fully appreciated for how large it was. Initial reports put it at the same size as the quake 2 days earlier a 7+ and everything had just worked perfectly for a quake that size. So if it was the same size it would work again right? But it wasn’t a 7+ it was a 9.0 the biggest quake ever in Japan and people should have known better; there were signs, a lot more shaking for longer, bigger damage and things started to fail like powerlines and phones as lines were felled or were broken. Some people reacted right away but others didn’t know it was worse than the one just days before.
A lot of people didn’t know there was a problem until the tsunami sirens went off and from the videos that doesn’t seem to have happened before the water started to come over the protective flood walls. For some the damage was immediate like the people in the 1800 homes of a small town that were washed away with their houses when the dam upstream burst. And then the tsunami hit.
At the now infamous nuclear plant in Fukishima when the quake hit the power went off. The reactor safety systems fired and did exactly what they were supposed to do shut down the 3 running reactors. The emergency generators started up as expected but this was different than the quake that had happened 2 days earlier when even with the 7.2 quake didn’t even cause the reactors to shutdown. But they too were told the quake was another 7+ and so everything was fine with a quake that size no larger tsunami was expected. And the quake was close enough to shore that when the data was examined and the quake was updated to first a 7.8, then an 8, then a 8.6, then 8.8, then 9.0 and by that time it was too late. Having just had the quake that was the largest that was expected, 2 days before this new quake, must have first made them say, not again, and then, oh wow this is different, then, oh no, and then the wave came over the wall that was designed to stop any tsunami and then the emergency generators went off and everything at that level was flooded, smashed and shoved around, and suddenly nothing was working and the emergency at the nuclear plant started.
In the towns and farms along the sea coast the devastation of the tsunami chased people from their homes, destroyed their lives and livelihoods, smashed ships, fishing vessels, stores, factories, shops and everything else. People were swept to sea or drowned, smashed, were trapped in cars and their houses collapsed on top of them. These people who had just survived what was to them “the big one” and they were living through the normal aftershocks for a 7+ earthquake were now living through the aftershocks of a 9.0
There were more 7+ earthquakes, more tsunami warnings, and 6+ and 5+ earthquakes happening every few minutes and a couple of the 7+ were almost 8+, 7.8 and 7.9s, big quakes in their own right. It must have been frightening and it was stopping people from getting in to look for survivors, bring in emergency relief, getting things fixed at the nuclear plant and either during those quakes or from the 9 itself there was even more damage being caused at the nuclear plant. Not just the explosions at the plants and possible damage to the reactor cores but cracks in seawalls and in the cement of the walls and floors of secondary catch basins for collecting water. I won’t go into the nuclear problems here, but they like the rest of the people in their country have a few things stacked against them that more than likely contributed to the extent of the damage and the seemingly slow reaction to the quake; the quake they expected had already happened 2 days before and the new one was misinterpreted and they thought it was no worse than the one they had just survived.
(OK most people will call the 7.2 a foreshock and the 9.0 the main event and while that is OK I don’t see it that way. The 7.2 was exactly where the later 9.0 also happened. The 7.2 set the whole thing in motion and the 9 followed the 7. Foreshock, aftershock and “the big one” have nothing in them that you can look at and say this one is an aftershock or that one is a foreshock it’s all who happened first and who set the whole thing off. And a lot of media outlets didn’t even notice the 7.2 in the first place because even with such a strong quake, larger than the 2010 Haiti quake that caused so much damage but in Japan even with a tsunami a 7 did no real damage so it was ignored. So in the eyes of a lot of media types the 7 didn’t happen.)