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Large stretches of land were left submerged under seawater, particularly in lower-lying areas.
The earthquake triggered tsunami warnings throughout the Pacific basin.
As we have seen, it is indeed difficult to define any earth tremor as the main quake until after the whole sequence of earth shocks has occurred.
Furthermore, despite advances in our knowledge of how and where earthquakes happen, our capability to predict exactly where and when the next earthquake will hit is in its infancy.
More than 125,000 buildings have been washed away or seriously damaged; property damage is estimated to be more than $310 billion.
Japan is used to dealing with seismic hazards, but the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami (as it has been officially named) were unusual even for Japan.
Hundreds of aftershocks, dozens of magnitude 6.0 or greater and two of magnitude 7.0 or greater, followed in the days and weeks after the main quake.
(Nearly two years later, on December 7, 2012, a magnitude-7.3 tremor originated from the same plate boundary region.
It also produced a maximum 60-centimeter-high tsunami, which struck the coast half an hour after the quake. Given the earthquake’s large magnitude and the smaller aftershocks that occurred as expected over the next day, no one thought that these could be foreshocks of an even larger event.
But it now looks like those quakes were all foreshocks for the magnitude-9.0 quake that hit two days later, just 40 kilometers north of the magnitude-7.2 event.