Articles | Volume 13, issue 9
Research article
06 Sep 2013
Research article |  | 06 Sep 2013

Interviewing insights regarding the fatalities inflicted by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake

M. Ando, M. Ishida, Y. Hayashi, C. Mizuki, Y. Nishikawa, and Y. Tu

Abstract. One hundred fifty survivors of the 11 March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake (Tohoku-oki earthquake) (Mw = 9.0) were interviewed to study the causes of deaths from the associated tsunami in coastal areas of Tohoku. The first official tsunami warning underestimated the height of the tsunami and 40% of the interviewees did not obtain this warning due to immediate blackouts and a lack of communication after the earthquake. Many chose to remain in dangerous locations based on the underestimated warning and their experiences with previous smaller tsunamis and/or due to misunderstanding the mitigating effects of nearby breakwaters in blocking incoming tsunamis. Some delayed their evacuation to perform family safety checks, and in many situations, the people affected misunderstood the risks involved in tsunamis. In this area, three large tsunamis have struck in the 115 yr preceding the 2011 tsunami. These tsunamis remained in the collective memory of communities, and numerous measures against future tsunami damage, such as breakwaters and tsunami evacuation drills, had been implemented. Despite these preparedness efforts, approximately 18 500 deaths and cases of missing persons occurred. The death rate with the age of 65 and above was particularly high, four times higher than that with other age groups. These interviews indicate that deaths resulted from a variety of reasons, but if residents had taken immediate action after the major ground motion stopped, most residents might have been saved. Education about the science behind earthquakes and tsunamis could help save more lives in the future.