Japan is one of the world's best-prepared countries when it comes to earthquakes and tsunamis, according to National Geographic. Tsunami detectors monitor water pressure deep below sea level and provide early warnings. Buildings are equipped to absorb arge shocks, many coastal towns are shielded by high seawalls, and established evacuation routes lead to safe buildings.
Yet the consequences of a tsunami as powerful as the one that hit the country last March are devastating.
"The fundamental problem is not that scientists don't know enough, and it's not that engineers don't engineer enough. The fundamental problem is that there are seven billion of us, and too many of us are living in places that are dangerous," Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, told the magazine. "We've built ourselves into situations where we simply can't get away. And I think this will be a century of paying the consequences."
Jin Sato, the mayor of Minamisanriku, was almost one of the missing. National Geographic's Tim Folger reports:
Minamisanriku, a quiet fishing port north of Sendai in northeastern Japan, disappeared last March 11. Sato nearly did too. The disaster started at 2:46 p.m., about 80 miles east in the Pacific, along a fault buried deep under the seafloor. A 280-mile-long block of Earth's crust suddenly lurched to the east, parts of it by nearly 80 feet. Sato had just wrapped up a meeting at the town hall. "We were talking about the town's tsunami defenses," he says. Another earthquake had jolted the region two days earlier-a precursor, scientists now realize, to the March 11 temblor, which has turned out to be the largest in Japan's history.
According to National Geographic, a tsunami hits almost every year. When and where will the next wave hit? Can science minimize the impact of earthquakes and tsunamis? Click here to read the full article from the February issue of National Geographic Magazine.
In the slideshow below, take a look at a few stunning photos by John Stanmeyer of high-risk areas. Click here for more photos by John Stanmeyer.