National Geographic : 2012 Feb
SHINICHI SATO, KYODO/AP IMAGES ALL buildings. On March 11 government seismolo- gists had barely stopped hugging their computer monitors to keep them from crashing to the oor when their rst tsunami warning went out. Together these measures saved many thou- sands of lives; Miki Endo alone may have saved thousands. e Tohoku earthquake itself---a mag- nitude 9---did much less damage than it would have in other countries. But between 16,000 and 20,000 died because of the tsunami---a death toll comparable to that caused by an earthquake and tsunami in the same region in 1896. Japan's defenses have improved tremendously since then, but its population has tripled. Its coasts are far more crowded. e same is true all over the world, in countries that are much less prepared. In the Indian Ocean, where the dead- liest tsunami in history killed nearly 230,000 people in 2004, most of them in Indonesia, a similar disaster has been forecast for sometime within the next 30 years. In the United States, where a tsunami devastated the Paci c North- west 300 years ago, when it was sparsely inhab- ited, geologists say another is inevitable. It's likely there will be many Minamisanrikus in the decades ahead. Sato had survived a big tsunami before. In 1960, when he was eight, a 14-foot wave killed 41 people in Minamisanriku. e seawall was built a er that, to a height of 5.5 meters, a little over 18 feet. "We thought we would be safe," Sato says. "Seismologists had told us to prepare for a tsunami that might be ve and a half to six meters high. But this one was three times that height." A erward, in the landscape of debris that had been his town, almost the only thing that remained intact was the seawall. somewhere in the world al- most every year, and giant ones have arguably in Minamisanriku, ten people---including Mayor Jin Sato---survived by clinging to handrails and a radio antenna.