One year ago today, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded struck off the coast of Japan and triggered a massive tsunami. Waves reached as far as 6 miles inland, claiming nearly 16,000 lives and causing billions of dollars in damage to roads, bridges, and buildings. The threat of nuclear meltdown at several of the country’s badly damaged reactors loomed large, and months of around-the-clock work was required to avoid catastrophe.
The United States sent help to assist in the search, rescue, and recovery efforts, and worked closely with Japanese officials in the days, weeks and months following the initial disaster. At the peak of Operation Tomodachi—our single, largest bilateral military operation with Japan ever—the Department of Defense had 24,000 personnel, 190 aircraft, and 24 Navy ships supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
President Obama, on March 17 of last year, explained that the Japanese people were not alone in their time of need:
Across the Pacific, they will find a hand of support extended from the United States as they get back on their feet. After all, we have an alliance that was forged more than a half century ago, and strengthened by shared interests and democratic values. Our people share ties of family, ties of culture, and ties of commerce. Our troops have served to protect Japan’s shores, and our citizens have found opportunity and friendship in Japan’s cities and towns.
In advance of the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, President Obama issued a statement:
No one can forget the tragic images of disaster in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, or the heartbreak of friends who lost homes, belongings, and, most importantly, loved ones. Even as it works to rebuild its devastated northeastern region, Japan has never wavered from its steadfast commitment to help other countries around the world. So on this day when our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people in remembrance of the hardship faced one year ago, let us also celebrate the recovery underway in Japan and pay tribute to Japan’s unflagging dedication to bettering the lives of others throughout the world. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable and, going forward, the people of Japan will continue to have an enduring partner in the United States.