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Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Reconnaissance Team 3 -- Day 2

Evidence of Tsunami's Power Is Staggering

The third of as many as seven ASCE reconnaissance teams is in Japan studying the impact on infrastructure caused by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Following teams sponsored by the Structural Engineering Institute and the Geo-Institute, the third team is sponsored by the Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute, and as such will be focused on damage to port structures. It is being led by Marc Percher, P.E., M.ASCE, a senior engineer with Halcrow Group in Oakland, Calif. He is a structural analyst and designer specializing in marine oil terminals and refinery structures. Percher and/or his teammates will be discussing their findings and experiences in regular posts.   


Read each day's entries:
Introduction  |  Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5  |  Day 6 

Day 2 -- Thursday, May 12

Twisted Pipeline 2

By Martin Eskijian, P.E., D.PE, M.ASCE
 

Last night we got to the hotel with all of our gear. I mistakenly asked for a room with a view (my usual request), only to find that the elevator didn’t work, and we were on the fifth floor. It was not easy to lug 50-plus pounds of stuff up five floors, and into a small room with a roommate that snored (though Alex claims that I do the same). After suffering through our dueling snoring, we got up early this morning, with breakfast at the 7-Eleven consisting of the great breakfast dumplings and a can of cold café au lait that was better than Starbucks. 

The mission for the day was to visit the port of Soma, which is close to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. We all had our dosimeters on, and the “boss” recorded our millirems as we started, and kept track during the day. Readings were absolutely minimal during the day, as we walked around the port in a light rain and cold wind.

The visit to the port wasn’t what I expected; there was minimal inertial damage, and no visible kinematic loading of piles. However, we did see geotechnical failures, including some liquefaction with lateral spreading. The overwhelming and almost imcomprehensible damage was due to the tsunami, and while this is my fifth investigation, I have never seen such widespread total destruction as here in Japan. Most of the earthquake damage was trumped by the tsunami hydrodynamic loads and floating missiles.

The three pictures in this post capture the magnitude of the damage. The first picture, above, is an out-of-service 16-inch pipeline that moved about 30 to 50 meters from its supports, and looked like spaghetti. In some areas the pipeline saddles had moved with this petroleum pipeline. Thankfully the pipeline wasn’t in service (it being empty likely contributed to the large displacements), but showed the power of the tsunami to cause damage you can hardly believe, even in person. 

The picture below shows an overturned block of concrete, part of the exterior cassion of the wharf. We estimated the weight to be about 640 kips, or 320 short tons. With consideration for buoyancy, we estimated the submerged weight to be about 250 kips or 125 tons. The block was picked up, overturned, and moved about 20 feet. Considering the estimated tsunami height of about 10-11 meters, it’s astounding that anything was left standing.

Overturned concrete 
The last photo brings home to me the personal nature of this tragedy in terms of the real people it affected. Adjacent to the port was a large parking lot of Japanese cars that were badly mangled, full of personal items, and left to be identified. We didn’t know the stories behind the vehicles, but unfortunately some of these were probably occupied during the tsunami by those desperately attempting escape.

Car wreckage 
Introduction  |  Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5  |  Day 6 

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