There can be few more frightening experiences than an earthquake, and last Friday’s quake that has devastated Japan will rank among the strongest ever recorded. Ranking 9.0 on the scale of magnitude, the Sendai, Japan quake ranks fifth among earthquakes in recorded history, coming after the 1960 quake in Chile (9.5), the 1964 quake at Prince William Sound, Alaska (9.2), the deadly Sumatra, Indonesia quake of 2004 (9.1), and the 1952 quake at Kamchatka, Russia (9.0).

But then, adding misery and terror to the devastating damage caused by the earthquake, a massive tsunami caused by the quake inundated countless miles of Japan’s coastline, taking several villages completely out to sea. The loss of energy caused by the quake and tsunami then led to another looming disaster — at least a partial meltdown of the reactor cores at two, and possibly more, nearby nuclear power plants. As if all that was not enough, a volcano in southern Japan erupted on Sunday, underlining that fact that the island nation rests atop the Pacific’s feared “Ring of Fire.”

Japan is perched on the edge of the Tuscarora Deep, a cleft in the earth’s crust five miles in depth that runs alongside the nation’s coastline. The massive stresses that build up along the Tuscarora Deep produce the historic earthquakes that Japan has experienced throughout its history — but never before so severe as on Friday.

The death toll from the disaster is not yet known, but early on Monday the Japanese government warned that the loss of life would likely be far greater than first thought. The deaths are not likely to come even close to the 230,000 who died in the 2004 Indonesian earthquake and tsunami, but the suffering and grief will be incalculable. The economic devastation to Japan may exceed that of any previous natural disaster anywhere in the world….

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