On March 11, 2011, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 hit in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Tohoku, Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake ever to hit the country — and because it occurred underwater, the quake resulted in massive tsunami waves, some of them 40 metres tall.
The earthquake itself was cataclysmic. About 19,000 people died and entire communities were wiped away. Adding to the catastrophe, though, was the fact that the tsunami caused meltdowns at three of the reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The plant suffered three explosions and began leaking radioactive material. Clean-up will take decades, and the final costs — financial, personal, cultural, environmental — won't be accurately counted for just as long.
On the third anniversary of the tsunami, we've collected a few stories and photos to help remember what happened, and put it in perspective. In the gallery above, you can see images of Japan just after the earthquake and what it looks like three years on. And below are some links to some of those long reads.
Michael Paterniti's story from GQ, published in October 2011, was one of the first major longform stories about the tsunami, and it remains one of the most poignant. Paterniti offers a highly affecting, incredibly detailed account of a man who was found alone, clinging to the roof of his house days after the Tsunami.
For a broader take, there's Richard Lloyd Parry's story in the London Review of Books, "Ghosts of the Tsunami." It's a story about a community shattered by nature, and the people left trying to rebuild it.
Three years on, Japanese communities are still struggling to rebuild. This week brought to light the story of one village where children haven't played outside in three years.
And what happened to all the Pacific's sea creatures after the tsunami? Many of them ended up in North America. And were immediately destroyed. There's an interesting piece on Slate that tackles the issue in more detail. And that's not all that's affecting North America. There are recent reports of nuclear radiation making its way over, too.
Finally, for a closer look at the aftermath, this is what happens when Google street view arrives in a town that, years later, is still devastated by the tsunami.