How Japan Quake Liquefied a Town 200 Miles Away

Urayasu dealing with warped streets, tilted buildings
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2011 8:07 AM CDT
Construction company employees inspect the manholes pushed out of the ground by liquefaction in the March 11 earthquake in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, Wednesday, April 6, 2011.   (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)
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(Newser) – Urayasu lies 200 miles south of the Japan earthquake epicenter, far from the danger zone—so why are residents relieving themselves in plastic bags while waiting for their sewage, water, and gas services to be restored? Though no buildings fell and no tsunami hit in this seaside town on March 11, something arguably stranger happened: Sludge oozed out of the ground, cracking roads, warping fences, tilting houses, and swallowing the bottoms of utility poles. It's a phenomenon called liquefaction, the Washington Post reports.

It happens when violent shaking causes tightly-packed sand particles to separate, allowing water to seep in. As a result, Japan's earthquake caused Urayasu, which is particularly vulnerable to liquefaction because it was built on reclaimed land composed of volcanic ash, garbage, and sand, to begin sinking into the sea. Up to 85% of the town was submerged in mud. The mud has since dried, but the mayor estimates it will cost $890 million—and take several years—to complete repairs and reinforce the infrastructure. (Read more Japan stories.)

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