23 Feb 2013

Scientists underestimated quake danger, says seismologist

7:17 am on 23 February 2013

A Japanese seismologist says overconfident scientists caused many people to die unneccesarily during the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011.

A magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a massive wall of water that devastated Japan's north-east coast, killing almost 19,000 people and triggering a major nuclear accident.

Speaking at a conference in Christchurch, Dr Satoko Oki said blind faith in the advice of scientists cost her country lives.

Dr Oki says scientists could not imagine a magnitude 9 earthquake or the subsequent tsunami taking place

Her research showed that 65% of the fatalities in the city of Kamaishi were in areas outside a danger zone marked on official tsunami hazard maps.

She said schoolchildren in the city had been trained to go as high as they could - beyond the official safe areas - and in contrast to adults who believed what they had been told via public messages most of them survived.

Dr Oki said scientists should have been saying the hazard maps were based on a magnitude 8 earthquake and advising people to go as high as possible.