Japan’s Devastating 8.9 Magnitude Earthquake Spawns Tsunami, Destroys Things

An 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan on Friday. The earthquake was centered off the eastern coast of Honshu, Japan’s most populated island, 230 miles northeast of Tokyo.

It was the strongest earthquake ever to hit Japan and one of the largest earthquakes to hit anywhere with the last century. The United States Geological Survey said this earthquake was the most severe since the 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile last year, killing 400 people and less severe than the 9.1-magnitude Northern Sumatra earthquake that spawned the 2004 tsunami.

The death toll is expected to rise as missing persons reports come in. Thus far the official death toll in Japan is around 300, 200 of which were found in northeastern port city Sendai. A ship carrying 100 people was swept away by the tsunami. [UPDATE: Media now reporting 1,000 feared dead]

Tsunami waves hit Hawaii early Friday, and officials predicted waves of up to 6 feet although the waves that eventually came were not that high. It seems so far that everyone was evacuated safely — tourists to higher floors of their hotels, residents to higher ground more inland — preventing any potential damage or loss of life.


The tsunami reached California’s coast on Friday morning around 7:30 am, hitting beaches in Crescent City (near the Oregon border), shaking some 35 boats loose. The beach-area residents evacuated to higher ground and later gathered to watch waves crash against 30-foot bluffs. Damage to fishing boats was also reported in the harbors of Santa Cruz. From The LA Times:

Local residents reported that about three dozen boats were “crushed” in the harbor and that surging waters significantly damaged or destroyed most of the docks. Ocean water surging up Elk Creek north of the harbor reportedly lapped up to front doors of the community’s cultural center.

Officials were warning residents to expect higher surges throughout the day, one resident said by telephone.

Officials discussed possibly shutting down the BART between Oakland and San Francisco and at stations down toward Daly City but decided around 10:20 am that such a thing would not be necessary. A few coastal school districts south of San Francisco cancelled classes, beaches were closed all along the coast and near-shore highways have been shut down.

Ocean Beach, CA

A blogger living a block from the beach in Pacifica in California wrote as the warnings rolled in:

I didn’t see anything telling to me to get out of Pacifica. So I stayed. It was warm inside my bed. My son was still sleeping. I got up to look outside my window. All seemed calm. A man seemed to be walking along the sidewalk. The sky was gray. But that’s normal. This is Pacifica…

A few minutes before 7 a.m., I heard the banging on the door. A tall man in black told me they are issuing a voluntary call to evacuate. I thanked the man. He smiled and then headed to the next door…

At 9 a.m., I walked toward the pier in the Sharp Park area. The waves were definitely higher than usual. The pier was empty. I was later told by a fisherman that the pier is closed. Along the pier, I found at least two TV crews and dozens of people, dog walkers, joggers and spectators, strolling along the coast. As I walked back to my house, I saw at least two patrol cars, one from Pacifica and another from South San Francisco. Warning signs are posted everywhere. The weather, by the way, is sunny and slightly warm.

santa cruz, CA

President Obama says that “The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial.”

When the earthquake hit Chile last year, many wondered why, considering the Chilean earthquake was more severe than Haiti’s, that Haiti had been destroyed and Chile, although impacted, was not demolished. Chile’s buildings were stronger, for one thing, but government corruption, poverty and luck also played a role.

Japan was similarly braced for the impact:

From seawalls that line stretches of Japan’s coastline, to skyscrapers that sway to absorb earthquakes, to building codes that are among the world’s most rigorous, no country may be better prepared to withstand earthquakes than Japan.

Had any other populous country suffered the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that shook Japan on Friday, tens of thousands of people might already be counted among the dead. So far, Japan’s death toll is in the hundreds, although it is certain to rise.

Over the years, Japan has spent billions of dollars developing the most advanced technology against earthquakes and tsunamis. The Japanese, who regularly experience smaller earthquakes and have lived through major ones, know how to react to quakes and tsunamis because of regular drills — unlike Southeast Asians, many of whom died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because they lingered near the coast.

More importantly, Gawker reports:

Fox News says it will be preempting this afternoon’s Glenn Beck show in order to cover the earthquake. Are you going to let Japan push you around again, Glenn Beck fans? I thought we won WWII?!

And EW reports:

Because of the threat of tsunami warnings — brought upon by Japan’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake — the cast and crew of Breaking Dawn had to evacuate from their their production location of Tofino, part of the Vancouver Island beach area. As a result, production on the film has been halted. Here’s the official statement from Summit Entertainment: “Due to the tsunami advisory, filming of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn has been delayed. All cast and crew were evacuated to the movie production’s base camp. Everyone is safe and sound.”

If you want to help, The Huffington Post offers the following suggestions:

Visit Redcross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 from your phone.

To donate or learn about other ways you can contribute to the International Medical Corps efforts putting together relief teams and providing supplies, go to Internationalmedicalcorps.org.

The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund was launched at GlobalGiving.org to garner funds for relief organizations helping victims and has already raised thousands, particularly from concerned Twitter users around the world.

If you have loved ones abroad, the Google Person Finder will help you connect with people who may have been displaced.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3198 articles for us.


  1. The world is a scary place.

    I don’t wish disasters on any nation or people, but I guess it is a blessing in a way that it happened to a more prepared country.

  2. I was on a plane, watching the news, from the time the tsunami began until five hours later.
    I was completely unable to contact any of the world outside the plane and alone and crying. Yet safe: unlike those out of contact, alone and crying, and unsafe. I have too many feelings for the persons affected by this.

  3. I have a friend in Japan. She said she’s never seen anything like this. Took her 10 hours to walk/ride buses home from where she works. This is crazy.

  4. Damn – the live feed from Japan = nauseating. I still don’t really even know what to think.

    I used to live in Hawaii & my parents still live there, so that was a pretty intense few hours of waiting. First phone call was basically my mom freaking out. However when she called back again – she said all was seemingly okay & that my dad had gone back to work. But before leaving he made a “rations box” for her to grab in case she had to leave quickly. The contents included were: 1 bag of Doritos, 4 bottles of water and 2 tubs (TUBS people) of red licorice. Wtf, Dad?

      • Right?? Although actually – my parents never really took natural disaster warnings seriously. When we lived in North Carolina, we would be the family on the block who would have “hurricane parties”. But they did at least tape up the windows. ANYWAY – thankfully they’re safe now.

        Japan though – I can’t even imagine what the people there are going through.

  5. You guys, my wife and I are going to Japan on our honeymoon. We had considered going straight after the wedding (which was last week), but we decided to wait to take advantage of the Easter Holiday and ANZAC day.


    Also we got married in Hawaii. Lawl.

      • Hey, did ya hear the one about all the people that got swept out to sea over in Japan?!


        She’s saying she would have been in Japan right now, and that coincidentally she was married in HI, which has also been affected.

      • What Diver said – the “lawl” was ironic. I thought by spelling it “lawl” I would make that obvious, but clearly I was wrong. T_T

  6. My family’s living in Tokyo right now, and I was up for hours last night…frantically refreshing twitter and facebook. Phones and the trains were down, but the 3G network was still miraculously up. My dad was supposed to be at the airport but was running late…counting my blessings. *small smile*

  7. Thanks for posting. One very small nit-picky detail: the plural of the word tsunami is tsunami, not tsunamis.

  8. Several ports in Oregon were damaged fairly badly and four people in Southern Oregon had to be rescued.

    The pictures and video out of Japan were terrifying. Seeing the cars being washed away and being struck by how terrifying it would be to be in one of those cars. Now I’m really worried about the nuclear reactors and the state of emergency at two of them and the warnings of radiation leaks.

  9. Damn, to anyone with ties to Japan, I hope you & yours are alright.

    Imagine being on the boat that got swept away? Christ.

    There’s a dive shop near the foreground of the picture of the wave coming in through the trees. It’s the white trailer/small building/whatever with the red square that has the white diagonal on it. That symbol is the diver down flag, and if you are in a boat and see that, divers are below. Don’t go near it with the boat, since you could hit a surfacing diver. Anyway, nobody will be diving in that water any time soon. Visibility will be screwed for a long ass time.

    Some of the footage coming out of Japan is unreal. Hug your loved ones, life is short.

    Shouldn’t be long now before Pat Robertson blames Japanese gays…

  10. I have cousins in Japan who I haven’t talked to in over a decade, and I am now actively worrying about them. It’s really weird how the threat of death makes you think about people you would otherwise never consider.

  11. I had someone talking at me when I first started reading this, so when I got to this sentence: “Thus far the official death toll in Japan is around 300, 200 of which were found in northeastern port city Sendai” for a split second I thought it said the death toll was 300,200 and I nearly had a heart attack! Not that ~300-1000 isn’t bad enough, but…yeah. Damn.

    A friend of mine from college has been teaching English in Japan for a few years now and I immediately emailed him as soon as I heard this had happened. He’s fine and his house is undamaged, but one of his friends from work is missing and a bunch of their coworkers are forming a search party. If y’all could include that guy, specifically, in your prayers/well wishes, I’d really appreciate that.

  12. We got a phone call of a friend in the early hours of the morning basically saying goodbye. He works over there in Japan and only went back over a few days ago. We’ve heard from him once since saying he made it home. Haven’t heard anything since. I didn’t know anything about it until I got that phone call, i’ve had the news channels on constantly since.

  13. A large chunk of my experiences growing up that have made me who I am today happened in Japan. I have never been so emotionally affected by a natural disaster. I cannot imagine how my friends who are actually Japanese feel right now.

  14. there is a rumor that in the future japan will be totally wiped out because of earthquake. Hopefully not true.

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