April 18, 2011

Japanese videos of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami

Posted by Austin Elliott

So many videos of the March 11 M9.0 Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami exist that collecting and disseminating them is a daunting task. In my three earlier posts on the subject I referred you to a variety of perspectives of both events (the quake and the tsunami). Since then plenty more clips have emerged, and continue to. I’ll make an attempt to guide you to a few of the more spectacular or interesting ones; the rest can be found through potentially endless browsing among the chain of “related videos” on YouTube.

The earthquake

The following surveillance video is one of the few that I’ve found recorded from a well-mounted stationary camera, removing the shakiness of handheld cameras that makes it difficult to discern real ground motion. As the camera remains strongly braced against the ceiling/wall, we can much more clearly see the motion of the contents of this building as it sways in the quake. The footage is from a 5th floor office in Koto Ward, Tokyo. Note the duration of shaking–over two minutes!–and pay attention to changes in the direction of shaking. The two most remarkable aspects of this footage are the variability in direction and intensity of shaking. The shaking we observe doesn’t reflect true ground motion, but rather the building’s response to that force from below. The building twists and wobbles as it’s shaken from beneath, perhaps adding to the fluctuating intensity of the shaking. The large source area of the earthquake (a huge patch of the subduction interface that ruptured) also contributes to the fluctuations in shaking as waves from early in the earthquake bounce around beneath the city and interfere with incoming waves from the later parts of the rupture. Shaking intensifies as it proceeds, likely representing both the interference of old and new waves and the gradual approach of the earthquake wave source southward as the rupture propagated down the coast, closer to this building.

The next clip was filmed outside and only coincidentally captured the quake, unlike most of the others in which people had enough time to run and grab their cameras.

Here a couple of young American tourists witnesses the quake in a Tokyo park. The rustling trees and alarmed birds provide a glimpse of quakes sans humans, while the warning siren adds an eerie gravity to the situation.


The tsunami

All of the videos of the tsunami I have seen are powerful, terrifying, and staggering to watch. Here are a few Japanese videos of it pouring into coastal harbors on the northeast coast, filmed from shore-front office buildings.

The most astounding part of these videos is how quickly the surge in sea level overtakes the seawalls and surges inland. It happens so quickly and easily it seems almost calm, belying the utter violence of torrents of water pouring into the city streets.

The tsunami easily overtakes the seawall in Shiogama, and the warning siren adds a chillingly stoic urgency to the unfolding disaster. “This is really happening” is the message I get.

Another video from just down the pier in Shiogama, where passenger ferries wait at a floating boarding platform. This video is filled with markers to indicate how high the water rises–watch especially the loading ramps and the bottom of the 2nd or 3rd floor balcony the videographer is standing on.

[Updated 4/18/11 10:35am]: Here’s a 3rd video of the tsunami overtopping a seawall, this time in Kesennuma port. The utter devastation wrought by the tsunami surge is plain to see here: it destroys absolutely everything in its path–everything you think it might wipe out from the beginning of the video… it does. This is how you end up with those scenes of utterly razed coastal towns. I can’t imagine this cameraman wasn’t utterly fearing for his life.


Below is yet another unbelievable video of the tsunami swelling into Kesennuma. This one is chock full of massive ships being swept through town, and like the other ones it shows the sea continue to flood inland to an astonishing depth.


This next video is a long one (~10 minutes), but well worth watching to see the full beginning of the tsunami unfold. There are fascinating eddies, currents, and surges to watch interact; you see how easily boats can get tossed around; and believe me, it doesn’t get truly intense until the end, even after you thought the worst was past. It’s like the first quake video above: don’t be fooled by the duration or waning intensity of the disaster at hand. In both cases it just gets worse and worse.

Finally two much shorter clips of the wave crashing ashore. The first I haven’t been able to find the raw clip of, but the news excerpt will suffice. The perspective is from the ground in what appears to be a similar area to–if not the very same–the region filmed so famously from the helicopter as the flaming black goo surged ashore. The clip of interest is short, and it’s merely of the wave cresting and crashing, but it is a formidable sight to see with its towering height:


Here watch the incredible volume of water surging forth as it’s launched over a breakwater and then speeds rapidly ashore:

The last video I want to share today serves as an incredible illustration of the age-old wisdom that a deep drawback of the sea forebodes a devastating surge back inward. Don’t go collect fish when you see the ocean get sucked out! Throughout this video there are various items for scale that give a staggering perspective on just how low the sea has dropped in advance of the inward surge of the tsunami:

I have hardly referred you to a fraction of the videos out there, so if you’re in awe of these there are plenty more to be found by clicking through the related videos on YouTube. As you watch these videos that bring you closer to the scene and evoke some vicarious experience of the terror, do consider the plight of those millions displaced; there are links to major aid organizations in the right-hand panel.