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Much research has underscored the critical nature of social capital during crises. Yet we have less information on how social ties interact with vulnerability factors such as age and socioeconomic status to influence mortality of the most vulnerable. Using a new, micro-level dataset of all 550 inundated neighborhoods from nearly 40 cities, towns, and villages across Japan’s Tohoku region, we analyze the factors that influenced mortality during the 11 March 2011 tsunami at the community level. Controlling for factors thought important in past studies – including geographic administrative, and demographic conditions – we find that social capital interacts with age and socioeconomic status to strongly correlate with mortality. For the elderly and those with lower socioeconomic status, ceteris paribus, deeper reservoirs of social capital are linked with lower levels of mortality. These findings bring with them important policy implications for disaster managers, communities, and decision makers facing the crisis.

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