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Tsunami damage to coastal defences and buildings in the March 11th 2011 M w 9.0 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami


On March 11th 2011 a M w 9.0 mega-thrust interface subduction earthquake, the Great East Japan Earthquake, occurred 130 km off the northeast coast of Japan in the Pacific Ocean at the Japan Trench, triggering tsunami which caused damage along 600 km of coastline. Observations of damage to buildings (including vertical evacuation facilities) and coastal defences in Tōhoku are presented following investigation by the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT) at 10 locations in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. Observations are presented in the context of the coastal setting and tsunami characteristics experienced at each location. Damage surveys were carried out in Kamaishi City and Kesennuma City using a damage scale for reinforced concrete (RC), timber and steel frame buildings adapted from an earlier EEFIT tsunami damage scale. Observations show that many sea walls and breakwaters were overtopped, overturned, or broken up, but provided some degree of protection. We show the extreme variability of damage in a local area due to inundation depth, flow direction, velocity variations and sheltering. Survival of many RC shear wall structures shows their high potential to withstand local earthquake and significant tsunami inundation but further research is required into mitigation of scour, liquefaction, debris impact, and the prevention of overturning failure. Damage to steel and timber buildings are also discussed. These observations are intended to contribute to mitigation of future earthquake and tsunami damage by highlighting the key features which influence damage level and local variability of damage sustained by urban coastal infrastructure when subjected to extreme tsunami inundation depths.

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Correspondence to Stuart Fraser.

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Fraser, S., Raby, A., Pomonis, A. et al. Tsunami damage to coastal defences and buildings in the March 11th 2011 M w 9.0 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. Bull Earthquake Eng 11, 205–239 (2013).

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  • Great East Japan tsunami
  • Vertical evacuation
  • Field observations
  • Tsunami fragility
  • Flow velocity estimates
  • Damage scale