A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake – the seventh largest recorded in history – struck the eastern coast of Japan at 14:46 local time on Friday 11 March.
The earthquake’s epicentre was located 130 kilometres off the eastern coast of Japan, and some 373 kilometres north-east of Tokyo. A number of severe 6.4-magnitude aftershocks followed.
Within minutes, the quake triggered a tsunami that hit the eastern coast of Japan with 7-metre-high waves, which pushed inland and left a trail of destruction.
So far, at least 600 people are feared to have died, with many more injured or missing. The earthquake triggered fires and caused severe damage to buildings, leaving 5 million households without electricity, and 1 million without water.
Landslides have been reported in 37 areas. Early assessments indicate that more than 2,500 houses have collapsed completely with a further 2,500 damaged. There is a nuclear alert in two power stations, and more than 40,000 residents have been evacuated by the local authorities.
Japanese Red Cross operation
Ten minutes after the earthquake, the Japanese Red Cross called its disaster management task force to headquarters. The Red Cross immediately began an assessment exercise from its national headquarters and at branch level, mobilizing its staff and volunteers.
The National Society has now deployed 62 national disaster response teams to carry out assessments and provide first aid and healthcare in the affected areas. Emergency relief planning is underway.
The Japanese Red Cross has not, so far, requested assistance, but the IFRC is working with the Japanese Red Cross and other National Societies in the region to monitor the situation closely.
The IFRC's logistics hub in Kuala Lumpur is on standby to deliver 20,000 non-food items, including shelter, if requested by the Japanese Red Cross.
Tsunami preparedness in Pacific and Americas
An earthquake of this size, with the potential to trigger a tsunami, can cause waves to strike coastlines within a few minutes or even hours later.
After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, early-warning and disaster preparedness programmes were stepped up in Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies and it is these early-warning measures that were put into full operation across the Pacific region and in South America.
A number of countries in the Pacific were on high tsunami alert. The Philippine Red Cross and Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) issued early warnings and, in some areas, began evacuating people to higher ground.
As the threat of tsunami in the Pacific basin diminished, Red Cross societies in Honduras and Peru were on full alert as a potential tsunami moved to the Americas. In Honduras, changes in wave patterns were observed and people were moved to higher ground as a preventive measure.
Both National Societies are working with their respective national authorities to observe and monitor the coastline.