EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS FROM THE MARCH 2011 EARTHQUAKE IN JAPAN


EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS OF THE GREAT EAST JAPAN EARTHQUAKE OF MARCH 11, 2011

20110413-Soil Mechanics lab, Yoshimine 0156.jpg
Earthquake Soil Liquification
Damage in Tokyo Area
One of the most viewed videos from the Japanese earthquake featured quavering images of a teenager’s room, shaking cars and a woman crouching in the middle of an empty suburban road in the Aoba neighborhood of Sendai. Recorded at the moment the earthquake struck, it begins with a teenager calling out “Mom, mom, are you ok!” as the camera and the scene around the shake in the earthquake. The mother is on the ground outside, apparently unhurt. It hard to tell exactly why she is crouching. “Maybe she couldn’t walk, because of the shaking,” one Japanese observer. Neighbors come out to check on the family as the boy goes back into and out of the house in search of car keys and a cell phone. As the earthquake passes, the boy and his mother wonder if their grandmother is safe and try to call her, only to find the networks jammed. [Source: J. David Goodman, New York Times]

In Japan, videos that showed intense shaking and things falling from desks and bookcases in television news rooms were widely shown. One amateur video taken near Tokyo Disneyland in Chiba showed a sidewalk sliding back and forth against a road and grey water bubbling up from the sidewalk surface, producing grey pools that spread and shook. The Urayasu area of Chiba—where Tokyo Disneyland is located—suffered severe earthquake liquification that transformed land surfaces into mud and water and caused foundations and manholes to lurch from the earth, utility poles to tilt and road to crack A video shot at a grocery store in Tokyo showed bottles crashing to the floor and some employees positioning themselves in front of the metal shelves to prevent further merchandise from tumbling.

On some American English teachers in Ishinomaki, a town devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, the Washington Post reported, “At 2:46 that afternoon, one of the American teachers, Aaron Jarrad, 26, had just said goodbye to his youngest students and was typing on his laptop, setting up his teaching schedule into August. When the earth began to shake, he slid underneath a table. Jarrad, who came from Phoenix, knew what an earthquake felt like — there’d been one just a couple of days earlier. He’d been a little unnerved. Some of the Japanese teachers had teased the jittery American. “This is Japan. We have earthquakes. Get over it,” they had told him. But this was more violent. When the shaking stopped, Jarrad typed a one word e-mail to his family in Phoenix: “Safe.” [Source: Andrew Higgins, Brigid Schulte and Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, March 29, 2011]

Jarrad’s friend Steve Corbett, driving to a favorite coffee shop, pulled over as the ground heaved. A hotel in front of him swayed so violently that the 25-year-old schoolteacher feared it would collapse. People ran out of a sushi restaurant and an electronics store, embracing one another, falling to their knees. Corbett had lived through his share of earthquakes growing up in California, but he had never felt the earth convulse like this. The worst lasted five minutes. Corbett timed the aftershocks. The earth didn’t settle for 12 minutes. “I honestly was expecting crevices to open in the ground in front of my eyes,” he said later.

Websites, Links and Resources

Links to Articles in this Website About the 2011 Tsunami and Earthquake: 2011 EAST JAPAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI: DEATH TOLL, GEOLOGY AND THEORIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ACCOUNTS OF THE 2011 EARTHQUAKE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DAMAGE FROM 2011 EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS AND SURVIVOR STORIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TSUNAMI WIPES OUT MINAMISANRIKU Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SURVIVORS OF THE 2011 TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DEAD AND MISSING FROM THE 2011 TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RESCUE, RELIEF, REBUILDING AFTER TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LIFE FOR SURVIVORS AFTER THE TSUNAMI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CRISIS AT THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TEPCO, AND THE SAFETY OF FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR PLANT Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MELTDOWNS AT THE FUKUSHIMA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EARLY HOURS AT FUKUSHIMA AFTER THE TSUNAMI STRUCK Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WHO’S TO BLAME FOR THE FUKUSHIMA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DAMAGE CONTROL AT FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RADIATION RELEASED FROM FUKUSHIMA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; IMPACT OF EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI OF MARCH 11, 2011 ON TOKYO, TRANSPORTATION AND ELECTRICITY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; IMPACT OF 2011 EAST JAPAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI ON THE ECONOMY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; NUCLEAR ENERGY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Links to Articles in this Website About Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis: VOLCANOS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MAJOR VOLCANOS AND ERUPTIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EARTHQUAKES AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EARTHQUAKES AND LIFE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LARGE EARTHQUAKES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; KOBE EARTHQUAKE OF 1995 Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LARGE EARTHQUAKES IN JAPAN IN THE 2000s Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TSUNAMIS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Good Websites and Sources on Tsunamis: Wikipedia article on Tsunamis Wikipedia ; Surviving a Tsunami, Lessons from Chile, Hawaii and Japan pubs.usgs.gov ; Tsunami Warning System in Japan jma.go.jp/jma ; Tsunami Warnings from Japan Meteorological Agency jma.go.jp/en/tsunami ; Book: Tsunami: The Underrated Hazard by Edward Bryant. Tsunamis That Struck Japan Major Tsunamis in Japan in the 20th Century tsunami.civil.tohoku.ac.jp ; Major Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Japan in the 20th Century drgeorgepc.com ; 1933 Earthquake and Tsunami pdf file cidbimena.desastres.hn ; 1983 Tsunami drgeorgepc.com ; Report on the 1993 Tsunami nctr.pmel.noaa.gov ; Small Tsunami in 2010 reuters.com ;

Good Websites and Sources on Earthquakes: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Earthquake Information Center earthquake.usgs.gov ; Wikipedia article on Earthquakes Wikipedia ; Earthquake severity pubs.usgs.gov ; USGS Earthquake Frequently Asked Questions earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/faq ; Collection of Images from Historic Earthquakes Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, Jan Kozak Collection ; World Earthquake Map iris.edu/seismon ; Most Recent Earthquakes earthquake.usgs.gov ; Interactive Earthquake Guide guardian.co.uk ; USGS Earthquakes for Kids earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids ; Earthquake Preparedness and Safety Surviving an Earthquake edu4hazards.org ; Earthquake Pamphlet pubs.usgs.gov ; Earthquake Preparedness Guide earthquakepreparednessguide.com ; Earthquake Safety Site earthquakecountry.info ;

Earthquake Information for Japan Earthquake Information from Japan Meteorological Agency jma.go.jp/en/quake ; F-Net Broadband Seismography Network fnet.bosai.go.jp ; USGS Japan Earthquake Information earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world ; Tectonics and Volcanos of Japan volcano.oregonstate.edu ; MCEER Earthquake Engineering on Major Earthquakes in Japan in the 20th Century mceer.buffalo.edu ; Major Earthquakes in Japan in the 20th Century drgeorgepc.com ; Sesimic Hazard Map earthquake.usgs.gov ; Earthquake Density Map earthquake.usgs.gov ; Seismicity Map earthquake.usgs.gov ; Blogs About Japanese Earthquakes blogged.com/topics/japan-earthquake ; Geological Maps aist.go.jp/GSJ ; Earthquake Engineering and Disaster Prevention: Disaster Prevention Research Institute, University of Kyoto dpri.kyoto-u.ac.jp/web ; Japan Association of Earthquake Engineering jaee.gr.jp/english ; Earthquake Preparedness in Japan Earthquake Preparedness Survey whatjapanthinks.com ;U.S. Embassy Disaster Preparedness Checklist tokyo.usembassy.gov ; U.K. Embassy on Earthquake Preparedness v ; Report on Fastening Furniture pdf file iiasa.ac.at/Research/RAV ;Earthquake Preparedness Guide earthquakepreparednessguide.com ;

Earthquake Research in Japan: Headquarters of Earthquake Research Promotion jishin.go.jp ; Active Fault Research Center unit.aist.go.jp ; Institute of Geology and Geoinformation unit.aist.go.jp ; Tokai Earthquake Prediction from Japan Meteorological Agency jma.go.jp/en/quake_tokai ;Research Center for Earthquake Prediction, University of Kyoto rcep.dpri.kyoto-u.ac.jp ; Earthquake Prediction Research Center, Tokyo University eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ ; Earthquake and Science Museums Shinagawa City Disaster Prevention site city.shinagawa.tokyo.jp ; Earthquake Museum (Kita Ward, near the Nishigahara Station on the Naboku subway line), Tokyo Essentials tokyoessentials.com ; Honjo Life Safety Learning Center (Sumida Ward) simulates an earthquake and fire in a 3-D theater. There is also a room that simulates a storm with wind sped of 30 meters per second. Tokyo City PDF file bousai.metro.tokyo.jp

Recent Earthquakes in Japan : USGS Last Earthquake in Japan neic.usgs.gov/neis/last_event/world_japan ; Recent Earthquakes eri.u-tokyo.ac.jp ; Info for the Previous Week jma.go.jp/en/quake ; Major Earthquakes in Japan Wikipedia List of Earthquakes in Japan Wikipedia ; USGS Historic Earthquakes earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/historical ;Major Earthquakes in Japan in the 20th Century drgeorgepc.com ; 1923 Tokyo Earthquake: 1923 Tokyo Earthquake Images eas.slu.edu/Earthquake_Center ; Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 dl.lib.brown.edu/kanto ; 1923 Tokyo Earthquake Photo Gallery japan-guide.com ; Earthquake Pictures: Earthquake Image Archive geot.civil.metro-u.ac.jp ; BBC Pictures of 2007 Niigata Earthquake BBC Pictures of 2007 Niigata Earthquake ; Kobe Earthquake Site seismo.unr.edu

Account of the Earthquake in Sendai

Sendai resident Braven Smillie wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “On that quiet Friday afternoon, a routine window-rattling rumble grew into a rolling, jerking ride as the walls seemed to dart out and snatch at us. Try to recall your worst falling dream and you'll have a sense of what it is like to lose all sense of confidence in your walls, floor and ceiling, and then even the ability to stand. “ [Source: Braven Smillie, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2011]

Smillie’s 10-year-old, Christina said that in her school: "It shook from the floor, and almost everybody was crying.... And our teacher said, 'Duck down under your desk and save your head!' It was like we were on a big boat and we were holding on to the feet of our desks and it was going back and forth and back and forth, like rowing a boat." Smillie said the shock and terror were real but not one child or teacher at the school was seriously hurt. [Ibid]

“When the shaking finally stopped, Smillie wrote, “I jogged out into a light snow to collect my daughters Tina and Elena from their nearby elementary school. As I arrived on the playground, I was frustrated at how difficult it was to find my children, or to distinguish any of the faces of the children I knew. There was something common in their appearance. Every kid had the same mask-like facial expression — a thousand-yard stare that is astonishing to see on a child.” [Ibid]

“As the assembled children waited for their parents, we looked across the playground, watching long, low, quick swells pass across the surface. Sometimes the ground seemed to rotate around us in impossible ways. We heard a series of distant explosions, and a few much closer. How, I thought, had the school building remained intact? Shouldn't there be rubble?” [Ibid]

Account of the March 11 Earthquake in Kesennuma

20110413-Soil Mechanics lab, Yoshimine 5189.jpg
Earthquake Damage, Tokyo Area
Reporting from Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Keiichi Nakane wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “When the earthquake occurred at 2:46 p.m. Friday, I was at the Yomiuri Shimbun Kesennuma office in the central area of the city. First, a vertical jolt hit me--I felt I had been shoved toward the ceiling. Then the building shook horizontally and violently, forcing me to go down on all fours. When the tremor subsided, the office floor was completely covered with things that had fallen off the shelves. I grabbed my camera, personal computer and communications equipment and rushed outside. I drove my car to the Kesennuma Central Community Center, since it was designated as an emergency evacuation site. One after another, residents were arriving at the community center.” [Source: Keiichi Nakane, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2011]

Elizabeth Flock wrote in the Washington Post,“It was a typical March day in Kesennuma, Japan, blustery with the threat of snow, and Jessica Besecker had made the mistake of wearing shorts to school. That morning, the 24-year-old had promised to pick up another American schoolteacher after school. She spent the day at Matsuiwa Junior High School in a flurry of preparation for graduation the following day.”[Source: Elizabeth Flock, Washington Post, March 29, 2011]

“At 2:46 p.m., Besecker was typing in the staff room when she felt the earth move. She looked over at another staff member sitting near her, a female student on the phone and another girl standing in the doorway. All four froze. The girl in the doorway began to cry, then crouched on the floor with the other student, and Besecker put her arms around them. Besecker remembered the 7.2-magnitude quake that had hit the country two days earlier and wondered why they didn’t know this was coming.” [Ibid]

“The bigger the jolts became, the tighter they gripped one another. Spotting a cabinet full of glasses above them, Besecker pulled the girls to one side to protect them. Another member of the staff, blood on his hands and face, rushed into the room to get on the PA system. Besecker pushed the girls outside the door. There was blood everywhere on the man, but he searched for the system, and only when he figured out it wouldn’t work did he stand still for Besecker and the other staff member to dab at him with tissues.” [Ibid]

“As they cleaned his wound, the quaking subsided. Outside the school, the male students bragged to Besecker and the other teachers that they weren’t scared; they were tough. Many of the girls cried. Besecker tried to comfort the students, but the Japanese words she had accumulated over 21 / 2 years failed her. Instead, she made shushing noises and rubbed their backs.” [Ibid]

Earthquake Near the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

20110413-Soil Mechanics lab, Yoshimine 5125.jpg
Earthquake Damage, Tokyo Area
Michael Alison Chandler wrote: “ For 43 years, Nobukiki and Sakiko Araki lived in a farmhouse about three miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant...On March 11, a 20-foot tsunami swallowed their house and washed away their neighborhood.” [Source: Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post March 29, 2011]

“On that day, Sakiko Araki, 62, was reading a magazine in her living room when her cell phone chimed with a government-issued advisory about an earthquake. But before she had time to check the message, the walls were shaking. The rocking became so violent, it knocked over tables and tipped the refrigerator.” “I couldn’t stand,” she said. She staggered into the hallway and grabbed hold of a wooden pillar in the hallway. “I thought, ‘When will the house collapse?’ ” she said. [Ibid]

“Nobukiki was nearby at a hardware store, shopping for gardening shears. The first blooms of the season — plum blossoms and Christmas roses — were appearing, and the couple were preparing for the long growing season. In addition to their two large bonsai trees, the 200-square-meter rose garden spanning the east side of the house was a particular point of pride. The quake shook everything off the store shelves. When the shaking began to subside, he got in his car and drove five minutes home. Inside, his wife was still standing in the hallway, clutching the pillar.” “Only after I saw his face did I feel relief flow through me,” Sakiko said. [Ibid]

Eyewitness Accounts of the 2011 Earthquake in Tokyo

20110413-Soil Mechanics lab, Yoshimine 0160.jpg
Earthquake Soil Liquification
Damage in Tokyo Area
Even Tokyo, far from the epicenter, felt a strong jolt from the earthquake. American translator Matt Alt told the New York Times: "This tremor was unlike any I've experienced previously, and I've lived here for eight years. It was a sustained rolling that made it impossible to stand, almost like vertigo." William M. Tsutsui, a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was traveling in Tokyo when the ground began to shake. “What was scariest was to look up at the skyscrapers all around,” he said. “They were swaying like trees in the breeze.”

In an E-mail to CTV "Alex" wrote: "I'm in Tokyo and we got rocked pretty good. Threw everything in my apartment on the floor, tore down part of the wall of the building next door. Aftershocks continuing now. And this isn't even the worst of it, the northeast part of the country is a terrible disaster area. Many dead, many still missing. This is a very sad day for Japan." Toronto photographer Andrew Pateras wrote on his personal blog: "I am writing to you at after midnight Tokyo time and the aftershocks are still hitting hard. The best way to describe it is to compare it to being in your cabin on a cruise ship during a storm. I am on dry land and I am actually feeling sea sick... I have lived through many life changing events, but this one will be forever burned in my memory. Today I saw hundred story buildings sway like palm trees in the wind as the earth shook beneath my feet. Now, I think I have seen it all." [Source: CTV News]

Toronto architect Shebbar Sagarwala told CTV's Canada AM: "We're still feeling the aftershocks every 10 to 15 minutes… I've got an app on my phone that's telling me they're about 5 on the Richter scale. We get a lot of earthquakes in Tokyo, but having a 5 or a 6 this frequently is really unnerving… When I moved here from Toronto I was really frightened about earthquakes so I got this app that sends me text message whenever there's an earthquake… The ones we usually feel are small, between 3 and 4, so I've tried to take them in stride. But this is something completely different." [Ibid]

20110413-TEPCO earthquake damage 110409_1f_mainbuilding_3.jpg
Earthquake Damage Inside Fukushima Plant
Reuters correspondent and Tokyo resident Linda Sieg said: "The building shook for what seemed a long time and many people in the newsroom grabbed their helmets and some got under their desks… It was probably the worst I have felt since I came to Japan more than 20 years ago." Australian Grant Stillman told the Sydney Morning Herald : "From my building I watched skyscrapers sway like the masts of yachts.. My building started making cracking sounds under our feet and that's when we took to the staircase." Australian James Pleasant said, "Blinds were banging, the walls were falling apart and slamming into windows and the floor began moving noticeably under our feet… People began getting up and racing for the door. By the time we got out into the hallway it was enough that keeping your balance had become a struggle." [Ibid]

“Ryosuke” told BBC News Online: "Although we're far from northern Japan, the quake here was very big… The first quake was very long - everyone in the office was screaming. Then we had another long one about 30 minutes after that. Paper and items were falling off the desks. We can hear the walls. We can hear the walls going back and forth." U.S. army helicopter pilot David Pierson, who was at Tokyo's Narita Airport, told CNN: "It felt like a jet had come too close to the window and everything started shaking and rocking, and there was a huge rumbling noise. All the signs started swaying and fixtures started popping out. When I saw the panic on people's faces, I made a move for the exit." [Ibid]

In an E-mail to CTV, "Barrie Jones" wrote: "I'm in Osaka, Japan and I felt the earthquake today. A small mercy for me that I am okay and so are those close to me, but my deepest concerns go out to those in the north." Journalist Chris Johnson said, "It felt like the big one that everyone's been expecting here in Tokyo. But, in fact, it was more than 300 kilometres away." Nevada resident Jesse Johnson, who was in Chiba, north of Tokyo, to The Associated Press: "At first it didn't feel unusual, but then it went on and on. So I got myself and my wife under the table…. I've lived in Japan for 10 years and I've never felt anything like this before. The aftershocks keep coming. It's gotten to the point where I don't know whether it's me shaking or an earthquake."

Videos of the Earthquake

Video of 2011 Earthquake in Northern Japan


Moment the Earthquake Hits


Running Outside During Earthquake


Earthquake Footage


Earthquake Video

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4) Soil Mechanic Lab, Yoshimine; U.S. Navy; 5) TEPCO

Text Sources: New York Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Kyodo News, National Geographic, The Guardian. Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2011

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.