News FocusJapan Disaster

One Year After the Devastation, Tohoku Designs Its Renewal

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Science  09 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6073, pp. 1164-1166
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6073.1164

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In the year since the magnitude-9 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Japan's leading experts in engineering, seismology, urban planning, emergency response, and economics have been laying the groundwork for the rebirth of dozens of obliterated villages. By studying the patterns of destruction, conducting simulations, and probing how well evacuation plans worked, they hope to make communities along Japan's northeast coast better able to withstand and recover from the next megatsunami. But as planners try to turn idealized visions of a safe city into plans for reconstruction, nature—and human nature—is forcing compromises. Experts concur that building towering seawalls to resist a once-in-a-millennium tsunami is impractical. And rearranging cities to make them safer—by moving houses to higher ground, for example—runs into logistical and political problems. As each day passes, fewer displaced residents plan to return—and restoring economic vitality grows that much harder.