The degree and extent of damage caused by the earthquake and resulting tsunami were enormous, with most of the damage being caused by the tsunami. Video footage of the towns worst affected shows little more than piles of rubble, with almost no parts of any structures left standing. Estimates of the cost of the damage range well into the tens of billions of US dollars; before-and-after satellite photographs of devastated regions show immense damage to many regions. Although Japan has invested the equivalent of billions of dollars on anti-tsunami seawalls which line at least 40% of its 34,751 km (21,593 mi) coastline and stand up to 12 m (39 ft) high, the tsunami simply washed over the top of some seawalls, collapsing some in the process.
Japan's National Police Agency said on 3 April 2011, that 45,700 buildings were destroyed and 144,300 were damaged by the quake and tsunami. The damaged buildings included 29,500 structures in Miyagi Prefecture, 12,500 in Iwate Prefecture and 2,400 in Fukushima Prefecture. Three hundred hospitals with 20 beds or more in Tōhoku were damaged by the disaster, with 11 being completely destroyed. The earthquake and tsunami created an estimated 25 million tons of rubble and debris in Japan.
An estimated 230,000 automobiles and trucks were damaged or destroyed in the disaster. As of the end of May 2011, residents of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures had requested deregistration of 15,000 vehicles, meaning that the owners of those vehicles were writing them off as unrepairable or unsalvageable.
All of Japan's ports were briefly closed after the earthquake, though the ones in Tokyo and southwards soon re-opened. Fifteen ports were located in the disaster zone. The north-eastern ports of Hachinohe, Sendai, Ishinomaki and Onahama were destroyed, while Chiba port (which serves the hydrocarbon industry) and Japan's ninth-largest container port at Kashima were also affected though less severely. The ports at Hitachinaka, Hitachi, Soma, Shiogama, Kesennuma, Ofunato, Kamashi and Miyako were also damaged and closed to ships. All 15 ports reopened to limited ship traffic by 29 March 2011.
The Port of Tokyo suffered slight damage; the effects of the quake included visible smoke rising from a building in the port with parts of the port areas being flooded, including soil liquefaction in Tokyo Disneyland's carpark.
Dams and water
The Fujinuma irrigation dam in Sukagawa ruptured, causing flooding and washing away 1800 homes. Eight people were missing and four bodies were discovered by the morning. Reportedly, some locals had attempted to repair leaks in the dam before it completely failed. On 12 March, 252 dams were inspected and it was discovered that six embankment dams had shallow cracks on their crests. The reservoir at one concrete gravity dam suffered a small non-serious slope failure. All damaged dams are functioning with no problems. Four dams within the quake area were unreachable. When the roads clear, experts will be dispatched to conduct further investigations.
In the immediate aftermath of the calamity, at least 1.5 million households were reported to have lost access to water supplies. By 21 March 2011, this number fell to 1.04 million.
According to Tōhoku Electric Power (TEP), around 4.4 million households in northeastern Japan were left without electricity. Several nuclear and conventional power plants went offline after the earthquake, reducing TEPCO's total capacity by 21 GW. Rolling blackouts began on 14 March due to power shortages caused by the earthquake. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which normally provides approximately 40 GW of electricity, announced that it can currently provide only about 30 GW. This is because 40% of the electricity used in the greater Tokyo area is now supplied by reactors in the Niigata and Fukushima prefectures. The reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi and Fukushima Dai-ni plants were automatically taken offline when the first earthquake occurred and have sustained major damage related to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Rolling blackouts of three hours are expected to last until the end of April and will affect the Tokyo, Kanagawa, Eastern Shizuoka, Yamanashi, Chiba, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tochigi, and Gunma prefectures. Voluntary reduced electricity use by consumers in the Kanto area helped reduce the predicted frequency and duration of the blackouts. By 21 March 2011, the number of households in the north without electricity fell to 242,927.
Tōhoku Electric Power cannot currently provide the Kanto region with additional power, because TEP's power plants were also damaged in the earthquake. Kansai Electric Power Company (Kepco) cannot share electricity, because its system operates at 60 hertz, whereas TEPCO and TEP operate their systems at 50 hertz; this is due to early industrial and infrastructure development in the 1880s that left Japan without a unified national power grid. Two substations, one in Shizuoka Prefecture and one in Nagano Prefecture, can convert between frequencies and transfer electricity from Kansai to Kanto and Tōhoku, but their capacity to do so is limited to 1 GW. With the damage to so many power plants, it could be years before electricity productions levels in eastern Japan return to pre-quake levels.
In effort to help alleviate the shortage, three steel manufacturers in the Kanto region are contributing electricity produced by their in-house conventional power stations to TEPCO for distribution to the general public. Sumitomo Metal Industries can produce up to 500 MW, JFE Steel 400 MW, and Nippon Steel 500 MW of electric power Auto and auto parts makers in Kanto and Tohoku agreed in May 2011 to operate their factories on Saturdays and Sundays and close on Thursdays and Fridays to assist in alleviating the electricity shortage during the summer of 2011.
Oil, gas and coal
A 220,000-barrel-per-day oil refinery of Cosmo Oil Company was set on fire by the quake at Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, to the east of Tokyo, It was extinguished after ten days, killing or injuring six people, and destroying storage tanks. Others halted production due to safety checks and power loss. In Sendai, a 145,000-barrel-per-day refinery owned by the largest refiner in Japan, JX Nippon Oil & Energy, was also set ablaze by the quake. Workers were evacuated, but tsunami warnings hindered efforts to extinguish the fire until 14 March, when officials planned to do so.
The city-owned plant for importing liquefied natural gas in Sendai was severely damaged, and supplies were halted for at least a month.
Nuclear power plants
The Fukushima I, Fukushima II, Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant and Tōkai nuclear power stations, consisting of a total eleven reactors, were automatically shut down following the earthquake. Higashidōri, also on the northeast coast, was already shut down for a periodic inspection. Cooling is needed to remove decay heat after a reactor has been shut down, and to maintain spent fuel pools. The backup cooling process is powered by emergency diesel generators at the plants and at Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant. At Fukushima I and II tsunami waves overtopped seawalls and destroyed diesel backup power systems, leading to severe problems at Fukushima I, including three large explosions and radioactive leakage. Over 200,000 people were evacuated.
The April 7 aftershock caused the loss of external power to Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and Higashidori Nuclear Power Plant but backup generators were functional. Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant lost 3 of 4 external power lines and lost cooling function for as much as 80 minutes. A spill of a couple liters of radioactive water occurred at Onagawa.
Europe's Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger addressed the European Parliament on 15 March, explaining that the nuclear disaster was an "apocalypse". As the nuclear crisis entered a second month, experts recognized that Fukushima I is not the worst nuclear accident ever, but it is the most complicated.
Later analysis indicated three reactors (Units 1, 2, and 3) had suffered meltdowns and continued to leak coolant water.
Japan declared a state of emergency following the failure of the cooling system at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in the evacuation of nearby residents. Officials from the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported that radiation levels inside the plant were up to 1,000 times normal levels, and that radiation levels outside the plant were up to 8 times normal levels. Later, a state of emergency was also declared at the Fukushima II nuclear power plant about 11 km (7 mi) south. This brought the total number of problematic reactors to six.
It was reported that radioactive iodine was detected in the tap water in Fukushima, Toshigi, Gunma, Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, and Niigata, and radioactive cesium in the tap water in Fukushima, Tochigi and Gunma. Radioactive cesium, iodine, and strontium were also detected in the soil in some places in Fukushima. There may be a need to replace the contaminated soil. Food products were also found contaminated by radioactive matter in several places in Japan. On April 5, 2011, the government of the Ibaraki Prefecture banned the fishing of sand lance after discovering that this species was contaminated by radioactive cesium above legal limits.
A fire occurred in the turbine section of the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant following the earthquake. The blaze was in a building housing the turbine, which is sited separately from the plant's reactor, and was soon extinguished. The plant was shut down as a precaution.
On 13 March the lowest-level state of emergency was declared regarding the Onagawa plant as radioactivity readings temporarily exceeded allowed levels in the area of the plant. Tohoku Electric Power Co. stated this may have been due to radiation from the Fukushima I nuclear accidents but was not from the Onagawa plant itself.
As a result of the April 7 aftershock, Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant lost 3 of 4 external power lines and lost cooling function for as much as 80 minutes. A spill of a couple liters of radioactive water occurred at Onagawa.
The number 2 reactor at Tōkai Nuclear Power Plant was shut down automatically. On 14 March it was reported that a cooling system pump for this reactor had stopped working; however, the Japan Atomic Power Company stated that there was a second operational pump sustaining the cooling systems, but that two of three diesel generators used to power the cooling system were out of order.
None of Japan's commercial wind turbines, totaling over 2300 MW in nameplate capacity, failed as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, including the Kamisu offshore wind farm directly hit by the tsunami.
Japan's transport network suffered severe disruptions. Many sections of Tōhoku Expressway serving northern Japan were damaged. The expressway did not reopen to general public use until 24 March 2011. All railway services were suspended in Tokyo, with an estimated 20,000 people stranded at major stations across the city. In the hours after the earthquake, some train services were resumed. Most Tokyo area train lines resumed full service by the next day—12 March. Twenty thousand stranded visitors spent the night of 11–12 March inside Tokyo Disneyland.
A tsunami wave flooded Sendai Airport at 15:55 JST, about 1 hour after the initial quake, causing severe damage. Narita and Haneda Airport both briefly suspended operations after the quake, but suffered little damage and reopened within 24 hours. Eleven airliners bound for Narita were diverted to nearby Yokota Air Base.
Various train services around Japan were also canceled, with JR East suspending all services for the rest of the day. Four trains on coastal lines were reported as being out of contact with operators; one, a four-car train on the Senseki Line, was found to have derailed, and its occupants were rescued shortly after 8 am the next morning. Sixty-two of 70 JR East train lines suffered damage to some degree; in the worst-hit areas, 23 stations on 7 lines were washed away, with damage or loss of track in 680 locations and the 30-km radius around the Fukushima I nuclear plant unable to be assessed.
There were no derailments of Shinkansen bullet train services in and out of Tokyo, but their services were also suspended. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen resumed limited service late in the day and was back to its normal schedule by the next day, while the Jōetsu and Nagano Shinkansen resumed services late on 12 March. Services on Yamagata Shinkansen resumed with limited numbers of trains on 31 March.
The Tōhoku Shinkansen line was worst hit, with JR East estimating that 1,100 sections of the line, varying from collapsed station roofs to bent power pylons, will need repairs. Services on the Tōhoku Shinkansen partially resumed only in Kantō area on 15 March, with one round-trip service per hour between Tokyo and Nasu-Shiobara, and Tōhoku area service partially resumed on 22 March between Morioka and Shin-Aomori. Services on Akita Shinkansen resumed with limited numbers of trains on 18 March.
Minami-Kesennuma Station on the Kesennuma Line was obliterated save for its platform; anecdotal evidence suggests severe damage to the line as well as other coastal lines (including the Ishinomaki Line and Senseki Line).
The rolling blackouts brought on by the crises at the nuclear power plants in Fukushima had a profound effect on the rail networks around Tokyo starting on 14 March. Major railways began running trains at 10–20 minute intervals, rather than the usual 3–5 minute intervals, operating some lines only at rush hour and completely shutting down others; notably, the Tokaido Main Line, Yokosuka Line, Sobu Main Line and Chūō-Sōbu Line were all stopped for the day. This led to near-paralysis within the capital, with long lines at train stations and many people unable to come to work or get home. Railway operators gradually increased capacity over the next few days, until running at approximately 80% capacity by 17 March and relieving the worst of the passenger congestion.
Cellular and landline phone service suffered major disruptions in the affected area. On the day of the quake, American broadcaster NPR was unable to reach anyone in Sendai with working phone or Internet. Internet services were largely unaffected in areas where basic infrastructure remained, despite the earthquake having damaged portions of several undersea cable systems landing in the affected regions; these systems were able to reroute around affected segments onto redundant links. Within Japan, only a few websites were initially unreachable. Several Wi-Fi hotspot providers have reacted to the quake by providing free access to their networks, and some American telecommunications and VoIP companies such as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and VoIP companies such as netTALK and Vonage have offered free calls to (and in some cases, from) Japan for a limited time, as did Germany's Deutsche Telekom.
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) evacuated the Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba, Ibaraki. The Center, which houses a control room for part of the International Space Station, has been shut down, with some damage reported. The Tsukuba control center resumed full operations for the space station's Kibo laboratory and the HTV cargo craft on March 21.
Five hundred and forty-nine Cultural Properties were damaged, including five National Treasures (at Zuigan-ji, Ōsaki Hachiman-gū, Shiramizu Amidadō, and Seihaku-ji); one hundred and forty-three Important Cultural Properties (including at Sendai Tōshō-gū, the Kōdōkan, and Entsū-in, with its western decorative motifs); one hundred and twenty Monuments of Japan (including Matsushima, Takata-matsubara, Yūbikan and the Site of Tagajō); seven Groups of Traditional Buildings; and three Important Tangible Folk Cultural Properties. Stone monuments at the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Shrines and Temples of Nikkō were toppled. In Tokyo, there was damage to Koishikawa Kōrakuen, Rikugien, Hamarikyū Onshi Teien, and the walls of Edo Castle. Information on the condition of collections held by museums, libraries and archives is still incomplete. There was no damage to the Historic Monuments and Sites of Hiraizumi in Iwate prefecture, and the recommendation for their inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List in June has been seized upon as a symbol of international recognition and recovery.