The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck 45 miles off Japan’s coast on March 11, 2011, was so powerful that, according to the US Geological Survey, it lifted and dropped a slab of seafloor 50 miles wide and more than 180 miles long–shifting the seafloor approximately 80 feet westward above the quake center. This was the fourth largest earthquake on record (since 1900) and the largest to ever hit Japan.
Within minutes, 60 foot waves moving at the speed of a jet plane began slamming into the coast. In some areas, waves grew to more than 100 feet high, as they maneuvered through port towns, swallowing them whole and drowning entire families.
Ocean plateaus surged up to six miles inland and unleashed the unspeakable devastation that claimed the lives of more than 15,884 people (with another 2,636 still unaccounted for), obliterated coastal communities and set off a nuclear disaster (the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl) that has the world rethinking atomic power.
Today marks the third anniversary of what the Japanese call 3-11. Remembrance ceremonies will be held in towns and cities around the disaster zone and in Tokyo, where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will lead tributes to those who lost their lives in Japan’s worst peace-time disaster. At 2:46pm (1546 AEDT), local governments will turn on the tsunami siren to mark the exact moment the quake hit.
Nearly 270,000 still people remain displaced and the remains of those lost to the tsunami continue to wash ashore. Officials have estimated that a decade could pass before everyone is resettled.
It is a devastating day that will forever haunt the memories of those who survived. And one that the world should never forget.
The slideshow above shows images of the some of the most haunting moments from Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami.