Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunamis

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Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunamis

Miyagi Prefecture, in northern Japan, March 11, 2011. (Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

Initial Japanese media reports indicate the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami which struck northeast of Tokyo on Friday, March 11, 2011 resulted in a major loss of life, and has caused widespread property damage.  Given the severity of Japan’s natural disaster, this quake and its aftermath could emerge as one of the costliest insurance events of the past century.  It comes as insurers and reinsurers have in the past 13 months responded to three severe quakes, each of which generated billions of dollars in insured losses (February 2010 in Chile as well as the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes in New Zealand).

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Facts and Stats






Top 10 Costliest World Earthquakes And Tsunamis By Insured Losses, 1980-2020 (1)

(US$ millions)

        Insured losses  
Rank Date Location Overall When occurred In 2020 dollars Fatalities
1 Mar. 11, 2011 Japan: Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, lbaraki, lwate,
Miyagi, Tochigi, Tokyo, Yamagata. Includes tsunami.
$210,000 $40,000 $46,378 15,880
2 Feb. 22, 2011 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Lyttelton 24,000 16,500 19,318 185
3 Jan. 17, 1994 USA (CA): Northridge, Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley,
Ventura, Orange
44,000 15,300 27,115 61
4 Feb. 27, 2010 Chile: Concepcion, Metropolitana, Rancagua, Talca,
Temuco, Valparaiso. Includes tsunami.
30,000 8,000 9,564 520
5 Sep. 4, 2010 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Avonside,
Omihi, Timaru, Kaiapoi, Lyttelton
10,000 7,400 8,778 0
6 Apr. 14-16, 2016 Japan: Kumamoto, Aso, Chuo Ward, Mashiki, Minamiaso,
Oita, Miyazaki, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi
32,000 6,500 7,039 205
7 Jan. 17, 1995 Japan: Hyogo, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto 100,000 3,000 5,172 6,430
8 Nov. 13, 2016 New Zealand: Canterbury, Kaikoura, Waiau,
Wellington, Marlborough, Picton
3,900 2,100 2,254 2
9 Jun. 13, 2011 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Lyttelton 2,700 2,100 2,411 1
10 Sep. 19, 2017 Mexico: Puebla, Morelos, Greater Mexico City 6,000 2,000 2,100 369

(1) Data through 2020 as of March 2021. Ranked on insured losses when occurred. Updated by the Insurance Information Institute using data from Munich Re's Relevant geophysical events worldwide 1980-2018.
(2) Based on property losses including, if applicable, agricultural, offshore, marine, aviation and National Flood Insurance Program losses in the United States and may differ from data shown elsewhere.

Source: © 2021 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research; Wikipedia.

View Archived Tables

Top Ten Deadliest World Earthquakes/Tsunamis, 1980-2015 (1)

($ millions)

      Losses when occurred
Rank Date Location Overall Insured Fatalities
1 Dec. 26, 2004 Indonesia; India; Sri Lanka; Thailand; Maldives;
Myanmar; Bangladesh; Malaysia. Includes tsunami.
$10,000 $1,000 220,000
2 Jan. 12, 2010 Haiti (esp. Port-au-Prince) 8,000 200 159,000
3 Oct. 8, 2005 Pakistan; India 5,200 5 88,000
4 May 12, 2008 China (Sichuan) 85,000 300 84,000
5 Jun. 20, 1990 Iran (esp. Manjil, Rudbar) 7,100 100 40,000
6 Dec. 26, 2003 Iran (esp. Bam) 500 20 26,200
7 Dec. 7, 1988 Armenia (esp. Spitak) 14,000 NA 25,000
8 Aug. 17, 1999 Turkey (esp. Izmit) 12,000 600 17,120
9 Mar. 3, 2011 Japan (Honshu).  Includes tsunami. 210,000 40,000 15,840
10 Jan. 26, 2001 India (Gujarat); Pakistan 4,600 100 14,970

(1) As of June 2016.

NA=Data not available.

Source: © 2016 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research, NatCatSERVICE.


($ millions)

Rank Insurance company Gross written premiums Market share
1 Tokio & Marine Nichido $19,660.9 24.0%
2 Sompo Japan  14,553.8 17.8
3 Mitsui Sumitomo  14,078.7 17.2
4 Aioi  8,680.3 10.6
5 Nipponkoa  7,046.0 8.6
6 Nisay Dowa  3,497.8 4.3
7 Fuji  3,186.4 3.9
8 AIU  2,452.8 3.0
9 Kyoei  1,929.1 2.4
10 Nisshin  1,448.7 1.8
11 American Home  802.0 1.0
12 Asahi  712.1 0.9
13 Sony  588.9 0.7
14 ACE  530.9 0.7
15 Zurich  439.9 0.5
16 SECOM  428.1 0.5
17 Sumi Sei  325.0 0.4
18 AXA  294.3 0.4
19 Mitsui Direct  285.1 0.4
20 Daido  151.8 0.2

Source: © AXCO 2011.


The International Atomic Energy Agency rates the severity of nuclear incidents on a scale from one (indicating an “anomaly”) to seven (indicating a “major event”). The scale considers an event’s impact based on three criteria: its affect on people and the environment; whether it caused unsafe levels of radiation in a facility; or if preventative measures did not function as intended. Scales six and seven designate full meltdowns, where the nuclear fuel reactor core overheats and melts. Partial meltdowns, in which the fuel is damaged, are rated a four or five.

The 1986 Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union was the only incident to rate seven. The incident killed 56 people directly and thousands of others through cancer and other diseases. The 1957 explosion of dried radioactive waste at the Maya Nuclear power plant near the Soviet city of Kyshtym in 1957 was the only other incident to receive a rating over five. It forced the evacuation of 10,000 people and resulted in at least 200 fatalities.

The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the worst nuclear accident in the U.S., was designated a five but was not the only incident to revive such a rating. Insurers paid about $71 million in liability claims and litigation costs associated with the accident. In addition to the liability payments to the public under the Price-Anderson Act, $300 million was paid by a pool of insurers to the operator of the damaged nuclear power plant under its property insurance policy.

The chart below ranks major nuclear events by economic losses. These include total economic losses, including destruction of property, emergency response, environmental remediation, evacuation, lost product, fines, and court and insurance claims. The March, 11, 2011 Japan disaster is not included as the affects are ongoing.

Selected Examples of Historic Nuclear Events, as Classified by the INES Scale (1)


Level INES description Example Location Year
1 Anomaly Fast stop of the main circulation pumps
and simultaneous loss of their fly wheel
systems during reactor scram
Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant,  Finland 2008
    Exposure of two workers in the nuclear power plant beyond the dose constraints Rajasthan Nuclear Power Plant, India 2012
2 Incident Reactor trip due to high pressure in the reactor pressure vessel Laguna Verde Nuclear
Power Plant, Mexico
    Overexposure of a practitioner in interventional radiology exceeding the annual limit Paris, France 2013
3 Serious incident Release of iodine 131 into the environment from the radioelements production facility Fleurus, Belgium 2008
    Severe overexposure of a radiographer Lima, Peru 2012
4 Accident with local consequences Radioactive material in scrap metal facility resulted in acute exposure of scrap dealer New Delhi, India 2010
    Overexposure of four workers at an irradiation facility Stamboliysky, Bulgaria 2011
5 Accident with wider consequences Severe damage to the reactor core Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant, USA 1979
    Four people died after being overexposed from an abandoned and ruptured high activity source Goiania, Brazil  1987
6 Serious accident Significant release of radioactive material to the environment after the explosion of a high activity waste tank Kyshtym, Russian Federation 1957
7 Major accident Significant release of radioactive material to the environment resulting in widespread health and environmental effects  Chernobyl, Ukraine 1986
    Significant release of radioactive material to the environment resulting in widespread environmental effects Fukushima, Japan 2011

(1) International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency. INES Flyer.

View Archived Tables

If you would like to help, the American Red Cross assists with domestic and international disasters every day; you can donate here.

If you are searching for friends or family members in Japan, there are several options:

Inquiries concerning U.S. citizens living or traveling in Japan should be referred to the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 or 202-647-5225.

For inquiries about relatives living in Japan who are not U.S. citizens, encourage the members of your community to keep calling or to try contacting other family members who live in the region. Even though communication networks overloaded right now, the situation may change and access to mobile networks and the Internet may improve.

Useful Online Resources

(Courtesy CNET.com)

Tracking the Tsunami

CNN Live Blog: CNN is tracking all the events surrounding the earthquake and tsunami with a live blog. It's currently providing up-to-date information on all the news coming out of Japan as the country tries to address the impact of the natural disaster.
Reuters Live Coverage: Reuters is providing a live, minute-by-minute resource for people to get all the latest news on the Japan earthquake. It's tracking events in Japan, as well as those elsewhere around the Pacific as the tsunami continues to travel toward shore.
BBC Live Blog: The BBC is also offering a live blog to give people the latest information on the tsunami. In addition, the publication is offering a "wave map" for people to track its progress.
Japan Meteorological Agency: Those with loved ones in Japan will want to go to the Japan Meteorological Agency Web site. It has up-to-date information on warnings, forecasts, and other key information on current conditions around the country.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Tsunami Warning Center: The NOAA's Pacific Tsunami Warning Page is being updated often with information on the latest warnings and information on where the tsunami is headed.
Hawaii Red Cross Twitter Page: The Hawaii Red Cross is using its Twitter page to detail information on the impact the tsunami is having on the state. It's also linking to local news stations that have live feeds covering the impact around Hawaii.
Map Visage Google Map: A Google Map has been created to provide a visual depiction of where the tsunami is headed. Each marker on the map provides the estimated arrival time for the tsunami, based on NOAA estimates.
U.S. Geological Survey: The U.S. Geological Survey is providing constant updates on earthquakes and aftershocks erupting in the Pacific. It's providing exact locations for the earthquakes, a map for users to see where they are, and more.
Twitter: As with previous natural disasters, Twitter is becoming a top resource for people to find out what's going on around the world. The tsunami hashtag is proving to be one of the best ways to cull information about the event.
The Weather Channel: As one might expect, The Weather Channel is all over the tsunami coverage, providing information on when it might hit the United States, maps showing arrival times, and the latest news surrounding the earthquakes.

Finding Loved Ones

Google Person Finder: Google has launched its Person Finder for the Japan Earthquake. Users can input information about someone in the service or search it to see if any information is available about someone who might have been impacted by the tsunami. The resource currently has 6,900 records, but it's growing quite rapidly.
NTT Docomo Safety Response: One of Japan's mobile-phone providers is allowing users to input a loved one's mobile phone number into a search to confirm the safety of that person. Think of it as a "message board" of sorts.
KDDI Disaster Message Board: Similar to NTT Docomo's service, the KDDI Disaster Message Board lets people place messages on its service to find out about a loved one's condition. That loved one's safety can then be confirmed via mobile phone or on a PC.
Softbank Message Board: Softbank's Message Board mimics KDDI's service, allowing users to post a message to loved ones, which can then be viewed on the person's mobile phone. They can respond from that device to confirm they're safe.
Japan Shelter Map: A Google Map has been created, listing lodging places for people who have been affected by the tsunami to stay the night.
Hawaii State Civil Defense: Hawaii's State Civil Defense released a list of evacuation centers and refuge sites for citizens. In addition, the page features other information that might be of use to those trying to find loved ones.

General Information

Google Crisis Response: Google is providing an outstanding resource on its Crisis Response page, listing organizations tracking the earthquakes and tsunami, as well as maps and the latest news surrounding the horrific event.
Red Cross Tsunami Checklist: The Red Cross Tsunami Checklist has been updated to provide information on preparedness and tips on what to do after a tsunami has hit.
Prime Minster of Japan and His Cabinet Page: The Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet page delivers several outstanding links and informational guides on the country's response to the tsunami and earthquake.
Red Cross Twitter Page: The Red Cross' Twitter account is providing resources for people to learn more about the tsunami and earthquakes. It also lists a number people can call to find information about their loved ones that might have been affected by the event.
Red Cross Newsroom: The American Red Cross' Newsroom page is providing updated information on the tsunami. It also has basic data about the earthquakes.

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