The two most destructive tsunamis ever

The earthquake in Japan on January 2, 2024 had no consequences, but in the last 20 years, two violent tsunamis have shocked our planet

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The two most destructive tsunamis ever
© Chris McGrath / Staff Getty Images News

The earthquake that hit the coast of Japan on January 2, 2024 did not have a tsunami as a consequence of the earthquake. But in the last 20 years our planet has experienced two truly terrible moments: two earthquakes that triggered two devastating tsunamis.

The planet has never been the same since then.

The Sumatra tsunami, 2004

On 26 December 2004 the violent tsunami that hit the Thai and Indonesian coasts did not cause, more or less to a fault, also due to the lack of an official automated alarm system and the unexpected proportion of the phenomenon, an effective alarm on the coasts of India and of Sri Lanka, where the destructive wave arrived after about four hours causing a further 40,000 victims.

There would probably have been plenty of time to warn the populations of the coastal villages via radio, local police, text messages and television, so as to make them flee on foot even just 500 meters from the coast.

Tsunami© Paula Bronstein / Staff Getty Images News

The damage to people would have been much lighter.

Something didn't work, even in the absence of recent precedents, but in any case in four hours an even incomplete alarm could have been issued by the authorities, who instead remained uncertain about what to do. Seismological observers all over the world should have bombarded the authorities of the large Asian country with alarms, warning that the wave, whose extent and extreme danger were already known, would reach southern India in a few hours and on Ceylon, after quickly crossing the Bay of Bengal.

But this was not done and the wave reached the African coast of Somalia where several dozen victims were recorded.

The Japan tsunami, 2011

On Friday 11 March 2011, a violent earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale was recorded in the north-eastern area of the island of Honshū in Japan, the largest earthquake recorded in the Japanese state in modern times.

The tremor was recorded by seismographs at 2.45pm local time, at a depth of 24.4 km with the epicenter just over 100 km off the coast of Sendai. The violent quake, which caused much damage and the shutdown of several nuclear power plants as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster, caused a huge tsunami that violently hit the Japanese coast just a few tens of minutes later with waves up to 10 meters high.

At dawn on March 14, according to Japanese state TV NHK and the Miyagi police, there were more than 10,000 dead, more than 10,000 missing and around 700,000 displaced.

Tsunami© U.S. Navy / Handout Getty Images News