60 Unforgettable Images of the Tsunami and Earthquake that Devastated Japan in March 2011

March 13, 2011: A woman wrapped in a blanket surveys the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Ishimaki, Miyagi prefecture Yomiuri Shimbun/Reuters
March 11, 2011: Gas storage tanks explode after the earthquake hit the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city, Chiba Prefecture. Asahi/Reuters

Seven years ago, Japan was struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami that took the lives of more than 18,000 people and triggered a nuclear meltdown. 

At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, Japan was rocked by an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0—the biggest in the nation's recorded history and one of the five most powerful ever recorded around the world. 

Within 30 minutes, towns along Japan's northeastern coastline were hit by tsunami waves towering as high as 130 feet. The waves swept away buildings, cars and entire neighborhoods. More than 65 percent of casualties were elderly men and women who were not able to run to higher ground or swim to safety.

Seven years later, some areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which suffered a meltdown in three reactors, continue to be uninhabitable due to high radiation levels. Decommissioning the crippled reactors could take decades and cost tens of billions of dollars.

March 11, 2011: A fire destroys a residential area following an earthquake in Yamada town, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan.Reuters
March 11, 2011: The sea sweeps inland as a massive tsunami hits the coastal areas of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan.Kyodo/Reuters
March 11, 2011: Huge tsunami waves pound the coast of Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture.Jiji Press/AFP
March 11, 2011: A powerful crashes over a wall and onto a street in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan.Reuters
March 11, 2011: Toya Chiba, a reporter for local newspaper Iwate Tokai Shimbun, is swept away as he was gathering news with his video camera, at Kamaishi port, Iwate prefecture. He managed to survive by grabbing a dangling rope and climbing onto a coal heap after being swept away for about 30 meters.Iwate Tokai Shimbun/Reuters
March 11, 2011: Sea water crashes through the city of Sendai, swallowing vehicles and houses.Jiji Press/AFP
March 11, 2011: A fire burns at a passenger terminal at Sendai Airport, which was engulfed by the tsunami.Kyodo/Reuters
March 11, 2011: Cars and airplanes swept by a tsunami are pictured among debris at Sendai Airport.Kyodo/Reuters
March 11, 2011: Houses, vehicles and other debris are swept out to sea in Kesennuma city.Reuters
March 11, 2011: Houses that caught alight during the earthquake are swept out to sea by the tsunami in Natori, Fukushima prefecture.Kyodo/Reuters
March 11, 2011: Whirlpools swirl in the sea near the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the tsunami.Reuters
March 12, 2011: People who were trapped in a building are rescued in a floating container in Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan.Kyodo/Reuters