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Remembering 3/11

EDITORIAL | Evacuations in an Earthquake Foremost Among March 11 Lessons

There are always unforeseen circumstances when an earthquake, tsunami, or other disaster hits, and the best way to save lives is by prompt evacuation.



[13 years after the Great East Japan Earthquake] In the Arahama area of Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai City, people offer prayers in memory of the thousands who lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami that followed. On the afternoon of March 10. (© Sankei by Takumi Kamoshida)

It has been 13 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake

The recent Noto Peninsula earthquake, which occurred on the afternoon of New Year's Day 2024, triggered a tsunami warning for the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. It was the largest such warning since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. 

Monday, March 11, marks a day of remembrance for all who perished on March 11, 2011. It is fitting therefore that we should remind ourselves of the importance of evacuation measures. They are one of the keys to saving lives in the event of a tsunami. 

As dangers continue following the January 1 Noto Peninsula earthquake, rescue workers search for a missing person at the site of a landslide covered in snow on January 12. In Ichinose-cho, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture. (©Sankei by Masamichi Kirihara)

Lessons from Tsunami Warnings of 2 Earthquakes

We cannot yet grasp the full extent of the tsunami and damage caused by the Noto earthquake. Nevertheless, that disaster, too, has many immensely important lessons to teach us.  

Immediately after the earthquake struck on January 1, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning. It covered the Sea of Japan coastal region, including the Noto Peninsula. Then, about 10 minutes later, the warning for the Noto Peninsula was changed to a major tsunami warning. 

The first tsunami appears to have arrived immediately after the earthquake. However, its height could not be measured due to the uplift of the coast from the tremor. The tsunami also hit coastal areas in Niigata and Toyama prefectures. 

TV reports and other sources continued to warn of tsunamis up to "1.2 meters for Wajima" until the following day. 

Even in the case of the East Japan Earthquake, in some areas tsunami height forecasts were revised upwards for some areas after the first report had been released. 

[13 years after the Great East Japan Earthquake] People join hands at the "Prayer Hill" in the Earthquake Reconstruction Memorial Park in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 10, 2024 (© Kyodo)

Certainty is Impossible, So Caution is Best

There are always unforeseen circumstances at times of disaster, and these are not limited to earthquakes and tsunamis. It is frequently impossible to avoid "uncertainty" in initial reports and estimates.

That means that it is vital that each and every person factor in unforeseen situations and uncertainty while acting to save lives. And we must constantly remind ourselves that the only way to save lives in the event of a tsunami is prompt evacuation.

One year before the Great East Japan Earthquake, a major earthquake occurred off the coast of Chile in South America. Subsequently, major tsunami warnings were issued across the Pacific for the coast of the Japanese archipelago. At that time only 3.8% of the targeted residents were confirmed as having gone to evacuation points established by local governments. 

In the end, the tsunami that was actually observed reached a maximum of just over one meter in height. It did not cause any damage on land. However, recollections of this experience are believed to have contributed to the unhurried evacuation responses of residents of coastal areas in 2011. That was just one year after the Chile quake when the mammoth earthquake struck northeast Japan. 

Flowers are placed in front of the cenotaph remembering the thousands who died in the M9.0 earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. At Kamaishi Prayer Park, March 10, in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture. (© Sankei by Masamichi Kirihara)

Tsunamis Merit Heightened Awareness

If fear of tsunamis and consciousness of the importance of evacuation are nothing more than intellectual exercises, lessons of the past and disaster awareness are sure to fade over time. Regardless of the scale of a tsunami and the amount of damage it causes, evacuation should take place without fail. This will protect lives by taking into account the possibility of unforeseen circumstances and information. It will also prevent memory and awareness from growing dull over time.

That is the most important lesson to be learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Moreover, it is a lesson reinforced by the Noto Peninsula earthquake. 

This lesson also applies to other kinds of disasters, such as landslides and floods. It is a lesson that should be shared by all residents of the Japanese archipelago. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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