Take the world's most earthquake-prepared country, jolt it with one of the biggest quakes in history and add a devastating tsunami minutes later. In the classic battle of Man vs. Nature, Nature won again.
Hundreds if not thousands of people are dead in Japan. One of the world's most technologically advanced and earthquake-prone nations is paralyzed by a 8.9-magnitude "megathrust." It was the fifth-strongest quake in the world since 1900 and the most powerful on record ever to hit Japan, but not the deadliest.
Friday's quake caused a rupture 186 miles long and 93 miles wide in the sea floor 80 miles off the eastern coast of Japan. It happened 15 miles beneath the sea floor. The force of the quake was so strong that it moved the island of Honshu 8 feet to the east, said USGS geophysicist Ken Hudnut. It sped up the Earth's rotation by 1.6 microseconds, according to NASA.
All the way across the Pacific Ocean, in California and Oregon, the tsunami tore docks apart and knocked boats loose.
And it could have been worse.
"No matter what we do, we're not totally safe," said disaster preparedness expert Dennis Mileti, a former California seismic safety commissioner. "Nature can always throw an event at us that exceeds what we've designed for."
Because of warning systems, the tsunami wasn't as deadly worldwide as some in the past. Most buildings withstood the shaking. The quake was 700 times more powerful than the one that struck Haiti last year, but the death toll appears to be far lower than the 220,000-plus killed in the Caribbean.