Massive 8.9 Earthquake Hits Japan; Tsunamis Predicted for Pacific Basin


An 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Japan on March 11, one of the strongest to ever hit Japan. The massive quake has triggered tsunamis not only in Japan, but around the Pacific Basin. Walls of water and debris have inundated coastal areas of Japan, and tsunami warnings were issued for at least 20 countries and numerous Pacific islands, including coastal Russia, the western coast of Canada and the US, the Marcus Islands, Taiwan, Guam and the Hawaiian Islands, where a full coastal evactuation has been taking place throughout early Friday morning. Strong aftershocks, as strong as 6.5-magnitude continue to shake the region, (the latest U.S. Geological Survey map, above, shows 95 recent quakes in the area) and at least one nuclear power plant in Japan may be encountering problems. Images coming from Japan show widespread damage from both the quakes and the tsunamis.

The USGS reported that the epicenter of the earthquake was 373 kilometers (231 miles) northeast of Tokyo and 130 km (80 miles) east of Sendai, Honshu. Police reports from Sendai say that so 200-300 bodies have been recovered, but the total death toll will likely be much, much higher. Reports say this is the 6th largest earthquake ever monitored, and the largest in Japan in over 140 years.

Tokyo did not suffer much damage, but in northern Japan, many areas were devastated. Compounding the damage was a wall of water that rushed inland of the island nation, leveling houses and washing away boats, cars and other debris. Click here to see some shocking images from the New York Times.

Reports says Japan is evacuating thousands of people from nearby a nuclear power plant, but the current condition of the reactor core is unknown at this time. Four reactors are located near the Earthquake area. The reactors were shut down, and no leaks have been found so far, but the cooling system for the reactors may not be working correctly.

Reports via Twitter say the roof may have collapsed at JAXA Tsukuba Space Center.

Tsunami waves have now begun to wash ashore in the Hawaiian Islands. The first waves are not necessarily the strongest; waves are predicted to be 2-3 meters (6-8 ft.) in Hawaii. Tsunamis are very hard to predict, and the USGS says wave heights can vary widely.

Get the latest on the tsunami predictions from NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

See this Google Map, overlaid with NOAA-predicted tsunami times.

Callan Bentley at the AGU Blogosphere has a good overview of earthquake and tsunami dynamics.

Predicted tusnami map from the March 11 earthquake. Credit: CNN
Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at and and Instagram at and

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