As 3/11 anniversary nears, US bases in Japan manage risk of another major quake
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Most servicemembers and their families now living in mainland Japan weren’t there on March 11, 2011, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake combined with a tsunami killed nearly 20,000 people and set off an ongoing nuclear crisis.
Aftershocks in the ensuing months came in the hundreds, with several registering above a 6.0 magnitude.
The passage of time left people with the feeling that current earthquakes, which are an everyday occurrence in Japan, are unrelated.
But oceanographic data show that the sea floor has continued expanding as a result of what happened six years ago — meaning that when the tens of thousands of DOD personnel in mainland Japan feel a tremor, they may be experiencing the faint legacy of the great earthquake in East Japan, also known as Tohoku.
“In that sense, it could be said that the Tohoku earthquake has not ended,” said Naoshi Hirata, a University of Tokyo professor and head of the Earthquake Research Institute Prediction Center. “There are still many evacuees all around Japan, so it has not ended. But it has also not ended as a natural phenomenon.”
Hirata said it is a certainty that a large-scale earthquake will occur sometime in the region encompassing Tokyo and outlying prefectures, where the United States has bases for all four DOD service branches. However, where and when it will happen is unpredictable under current methods, he said.
That certainty is what keeps emergency planners at U.S. bases in the region revising, practicing and planning year-round for a long list of potential emergencies.
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