The Washington Post

Japan earthquake and tsunami: Predicting the ‘big one’ may have saved countless lives

Although Japan didn’t expect the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rocked the country Friday, they have certainly been ready for something like it.

The Post’s Joel Achenbach reported that Japan has long prepared for the ‘Big One,’ and Brian Vastag wrote of how the devastating Kobe temblor in 1995 influenced the Japanese as they laid out their cities and built their buildings.

Achenbach wrote:

Japanese geologists have long forecast a huge earthquake along a major plate boundary southwest of Tokyo, and have poured enormous resources into monitoring the faint traces of strain building in that portion of the Earth’s crust. They have predicted in great detail the amount of property damage and the number of landslides such a tremor would generate. They’ve even given the conjectured event a name: The Tokai Earthquake.

Japan soon became a world leader in engineering new structures and retrofitting old ones to withstand violent shaking. Vastag reports:

Huge rubber shock-absorbers, walls that slide and Teflon foundation pads that isolate buildings from the ground all help explain why medium- and high-rise structures in Japan remain standing in the wake of the country’s largest earthquake on record.

This video shows just how sturdy those buildings are:

The genius of their engineering may have saved countless lives. A team of National Science Foundation-funded researchers will soon evaluate the damage and gather data from collapsed structures. Only then will we know much predicting the ‘big one’ mattered.

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