The Great East Japan earthquake that started the Fukushima nuclear disaster and caused tsunami damage to large portions of north east Japan was slowly building for 9 years.
The build up on the fault in the Japan trench was a slow build. Researchers were able to identify it after the fact by tracking GPS stations. They did say not every massive quake like this could be detected ahead of time but they now know more about how they might be able to detect some of these events before they happen.
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