Japan earthquake: Ten years on from disaster that shocked the world


Houses ripped up from their foundations, boats washed miles inland, streets buried in rubble and smoke rising from electrical fires – these were the other-worldly scenes beamed around the world almost 10 years ago after Japan was hit by one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. 

It was 2.46pm local time on March 11, 2011, when the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake struck off Japan’s east coast, triggering a tsunami up to 56ft high that washed inland and destroyed everything in its path.

By the latest count, 15,899 people lost their lives with another 2,572 people missing and presumed dead. More than 6,000 were injured, with whole towns wiped from the map.

At the Fukushima Daatchi nuclear power plant, the water caused a meltdown that irradiated large parts of the surrounding prefecture, many of which are still uninhabitable. 

But, as these remarkable images show, other parts of the country have been almost completely rebuilt over the last decade and are now unrecognisable from the scenes of devastation that shocked the world that day.

The city of Kesennuma, located in Miyagi prefecture, is seen (left) on March 16, 2011, five days after the earthquake and tsunami struck, and the same view again (right) is seen on on January 27, 2021, almost 10 years on

A street in the town of Ofunato, Iwate prefecture, is blocked by a house and other debris washed inland by the tsunami on March 14, 2011 (left), and the same street is seen (right) on January 27, 2021

A passenger ferry left stranded atop a tourist house in Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture, is pictured (left) on April 16, 2011, more than a month after the tsunami deposited it there, while the same building is seen (right) on January 27

Part of the destroyed city of of Ofunato, in Iwate prefecture, is pictured (left) on March 14, 2011, just days after the quake struck, and again (right) on January 27, almost ten years after the disaster

An area of Minamisanriku, in Miyagi prefecture, is seen (left) on March 18, 2011, a week after the devastating earthquake, and again (right) on January 26 after being cleared of debris

Locals look at the devastation caused by the tsunami in Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture (left), on March 12, 2011, just hours after the disaster, and the same scene is pictured (right) on January 25, 2021

A survivor is pictured (left) walking past rubble and collapsed buildings in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture on March 18, 2011, while the same street is pictured right on January 27, 2021

Residents walk along a street littered with cars crushed by the tsunami in the town of Ofunato, Iwate prefecture on March 14, 2011 (left), while the same street is pictured (right) on January 27, 2021

A boat is left tangled in power lines in the coastal city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, on March 15, 2011 (left), while the same street is pictured (right) on January 26, 2021

Destroyed buildings are seen next to a tree dubbed the ‘miracle pine’ in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture, March 29, 2011, while the same scene is pictured (right) on January 27, 2021, with reconstruction not yet complete

Locals gather next to a tourist building in Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture, with a passenger ferry deposited on top of it on April 16, 2011, while the same scene is pictured (right) in January this year with reconstruction work still ongoing

Cars and trees litter the streets in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture on March 14, 2011, after the tsunami, while the same scene is almost unrecognisable in January this year after rebuilding work finished

A fishing ship washed inland by the tsunami sits amid buckled metal and other debris on April 7, 2011, in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture, while the same area is pictured (right) on January 27, 2021

A picture taken by a Miyako City official on March 11, 2011 and received from Jiji Press shows the tsunami breaching an embankment and flowing into the city of Miyako, Iwate prefecture (left), and (right) the same area on January 28, 2021

Residents of Tagajo, in Miyagi prefecture, walk between destroyed cars littered across a highway on March 13, 2011; and (right), the same area is seen nearly 10 years later on January 25, 2021

People walk past damaged cars on a street in a tsunami hit area of Tagajo, Miyagi prefecture on March 13, 2011 (left); and the same area is seen (right) nearly 10 years later on January 26, 2021

A fishing boat beached on top of seawall defences is seen on March 11, 2011, the day of the tsunami (left); and the same seawall is seen (right) on January 27, 2021

A sailing boat lies across a road in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, on March 15, 2011 (left); and (right) the same area is seen on January 26, 2021 – almost ten years later

Debris covers a large tsunami-hit area of Natori, Miyagi prefecture on March 13, 2011 (left); and the same area (right) is seen nearly 10 years later on January 26, 2021

A 33ft pine tree dubbed the ‘Miracle Pine after surviving the tsunami is seen in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture on March 29, 2011 (left) amid destroyed buildings, while the same tree is seen (right) on January 27, 2021, as reconstruction work continues

Vehicles drive past debris piled up in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture on March 29, 2011 (left); and the same area (right) is seen nearly 10 years later on January 27, 2021

A tsunami-hit street in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture is seen on March 14, 2011 (left), while the same area is seen (right) on January 27, 2021 – almost 10 years later



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