Massive Earthquake Hits Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan

Coming out of a chaotic 2023, there were low expectations for the new year. 2024 promises to be another tumultuous one, with presidential elections in the United States, ongoing global conflicts, and rising international tensions. However, the year started off even worse for Japan which was struck by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake. 

The earthquake was centered on the Noto peninsula, in Ishikawa prefecture. The Noto Peninsula is an outcropping on the North Western coast of Japan, on the inside of the island’s curve. The earthquake was incredibly destructive, shifting the coastline in some places by over 800 feet, and causing tsunamis up to 14 feet high. As of the 16th, 227 fatalities have been confirmed by the Japanese Red Cross Society, as well as 997 people injured, 8,854 houses damaged or collapsed, and over 16,000 people displaced or evacuated.

Despite the incredible damage inflicted on buildings and infrastructure, as well as the many lives tragically lost, some evidence suggests that the impacts could have been much worse. Other examples of similar magnitude earthquakes have resulted in much higher death tolls and more destruction than the one that occurred on Jan 1st. This difference is in no small part due to Japan’s introduction of seismic standards to building codes after the Yokohama earthquake in 1923. 

Several specific guidelines are used to make buildings more earthquake-resistant, including Taishin, Seishin, and Menshin. Taishin mandates that every building must have beams, pillars, etc. greater than a certain thickness so they can absorb ground tremors. Seishin advises that the building frame and foundation are separated, and connected with shock-absorbing materials. This allows buildings to absorb seismic activity but is not legally required. Finally, Menshin is the practice of making a building’s base out of thick rubber, lead, or iron so the foundation can move and help the higher parts of the building be less affected by tremors. This is most common in large, tall buildings. 

Acknowledging the positive impacts of these building guidelines is important, as it provides evidence and incentives for other countries to implement more disaster-resistant architecture. Preventative measures are the best way to preserve property and human life when a natural disaster occurs, no matter how big or small. Right now, the U.S. and many other countries around the world are providing monetary assistance and various forms of humanitarian aid to Japan in its recovery. 

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