The world’s largest dam failed to protect Japan during the tragic 2011 tsunami

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network’s Chris Mei featuring stories about people, communities and events and how the weather has affected them.

The largest dam in the world is located in Kamaishi, Iwate, Japan. It was 63 meters deep and 2 km long and cost $1.5 billion to build. Despite this, the wall failed to protect the city from 4-meter tsunami waves.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck 70 km east of the Oshika Peninsula in Tōhoku. All of northern Japan felt the tremor. It is the strongest earthquake recorded in Japanese history. It is also the fourth-strongest earthquake in the world since modern records began in 1900.

A seismogram

A seismogram

A seismogram of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. Courtesy Z22/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

As soon as the earthquake struck the area, a tsunami warning was issued.

Coastal residents began running to higher ground, but some areas only had eight to 10 minutes’ advance warning.

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The tsunami waves surpassed seawalls and swept across mainland Japan. The total death toll varies by source, but around 28,000 people died or were missing due to the tsunami.



Aerial view of Minato. Courtesy US Air Force

According to a report by the National Police Agency of Japan, the tsunami caused 121,778 buildings to collapse completely, 280,926 buildings to half collapse, and another 699,180 buildings to have partial damage.

The tsunami also caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Fukushima I by Digital Globe

Fukushima I by Digital Globe

The Fukushima nuclear power plant after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Reactors 1 through 4 from right to left. Courtesy of Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

The earthquake damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but the emergency generators turned on. However, the tsunami caused these backup generators to fail, resulting in three meltdowns and three hydrogen explosions. Radioactive contamination was released and around 154,000 residents had to be evacuated from their homes.

According to the World Bank, the earthquake had an estimated economic cost of $235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in history.

To learn more about the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, listen to tonight’s episode of This Day In Weather History.

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Thumbnail: Aerial view of Minato. Courtesy US Air Force


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