An ordinary March day in northeastern Japan ended in extraordinary catastrophe: A 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast on March 11, triggering a tsunami that swept away whole towns in the devastated region of Tohoku. Officials eventually reported more than 18,000 dead or missing in the most powerful quake ever recorded in Japan. The quake moved the island of Honshu (the largest in Japan) eight feet to the east, and sped up the Earth's rotation by 1.6 microseconds, according to NASA. But it was the ensuing tsunami that brought desolation: Thirty-foot walls of water barreled over concrete barriers and swallowed whole communities-and reached the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, badly damaging reactors and triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Authorities evacuated miles of contaminated communities around the plant, adding to the vast numbers of residents left homeless by the tsunami.
A year-end report claimed that a purification device leaked 45 tons of highly radioactive water during December, leaving many Japanese worried that dangers remain.