Civil/Structural Engineering, Vashon, Washington, USA 206-463-5311
Ellisport Engineering Blog
Letter to Daughter About Japan Earthquake Seminar

Note: Steve Kicinski's daughter has been working in Korea for over a year, and is about to travel to Japan.  The following is a letter he sent her about a seminar he attended on June 15, 2011, regarding the recent earthquake in Japan.



While you were watching an eclipse last night, I attended a 4-hour seminar at Kane Hall (University of Washington), presented by a group of local engineers from the Structural Engineers Association of Washington (SEAW), who just got back from Japan on June 6th.  The goals were the following:


  • To view earthquake damage from the 9.0M earthquake and the multitude of large aftershocks – conclusion: buildings built with post-1980 codes performed well.
  • To view tsunami damage
  • To compare Japan’s readiness (the best in the world) with our readiness, since the northwest, and especially the Puget Sound and Portland areas, face exactly the same seismic and tsunami risk
  • And to learn from their recovery efforts

There are many things I heard that are too numerous to relate in an email, but here are a few highlights:


  • Hybrid cars were the main cause of fires after the earthquake and tsunami (cars tossed around, batteries shorted out, start the interior of the car on fire, then car lights the surroundings on fire)
  • High-rise refugees – without power, and sometimes water, those above the eighth floor had to go to refugee centers, even though the high-rise buildings were undamaged and structurally livable
  • The mayor of Minamisanriku survived the tsunami by climbing a tower at the top of the emergency response center, at the encouragement of his co-workers – they said he must lead them out of the emergency. On the second floor was a young woman, Miki Endo, who continued emergency broadcasts of the tsunami warning, even as the wave crashed into the building.  She is considered a hero.
  • Minamisanriku actually had 14 tsunami waves over a 12-hour period.  The highest was 15 meters.  Tsunami waves do damage as they approach shore, but they also do damage as they recede.  A world record was set, as one wave went inland over 6 miles!
  • The highest recorded wave was in another region, over 18 meters!
  • One neighborhood response coordinator, in his 70’s was swept away in the tsunami wave, but survived by landing on the second story of a building as the wave receded.  He lost his wife in the wave, and yet went right to work helping his neighborhood.
  • The translated slogan for the town of Miyagi is: “Miyagi will overcome.  Miyagi will recover and be stronger.  Smiles will be overflowing in our region.  Because of the support from our international friends.”
  • High rise buildings in Tokyo experienced ground shaking for over 10 minutes, and buildings continued to sway much longer – over 12 minutes.  People in the upper stories were getting seasick.


Kane Hall was 90% full, with a large proportion being people of Asian-heritage.  When the presenter showed pictures of Minamisanriku’s damage, he said, “The pictures will tell the story.  I’m just going to shut up.”  Complete silence in the auditorium – you could have heard a pin drop.


There is much more I could tell, but above all else, the graciousness, strength, and bravery of the Japanese people were shown.  I have respect upon respect for the Japanese.  Wow.




Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)