MILES from the ocean's edge, weary, mud-spattered survivors wandered streets strewn with fallen trees, crumpled cars and even airplanes.
Relics of lives now destroyed were everywhere – half a piano, a textbook, a soiled red sleeping bag. Today, one day after a massive tsunami tore through Sendai, residents surveyed the devastation that has laid waste to whole sections of the northern port of one million people, 80 miles from the epicentre of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that set off one of the worst disasters in Japan's history.
Rescue workers plied boats through murky waters around flooded structures, nosing their way through a sea of detritus, while smoke from a large fire billowed in the distance.
Power and phone reception was cut off, while hundreds of people lined up outside the few still-operating supermarkets for basic commodities. The petrol stations on streets not covered with water were swamped with people waiting to fill their cars.
A convenience store three miles from the shore was open for business, though there was no power and the floors were covered in grime. “The flood came in from behind the store and swept around both sides,” said shop owner Wakio Fushima. “Cars were flowing right by.” A steady flow of customers stocked up on drinks and instant noodles, knowing it would be a long time before life returns to anything like normal.
Some recalled how they cheated death. “The tsunami was unbelievably fast,” said Koichi Takairin, a 34-year-old lorry driver who watched everything around him sucked into the surging waters. “Smaller cars were being swept around me. All I could do was sit in my lorry.” He managed to wait out the waves that swept some six miles inland, but an unknown number of others perished.
Police said they had found 200 to 300 bodies washed up on nearby beaches. Many families spent the night outdoors, or wandering debrisstrewn streets, unable to return to homes damaged or destroyed by the quake or tsunami. Most buildings out of range of the tsunami appeared to have survived the quake without much damage, though some older wooden structures were toppled. Paved roads had buckled in some places.
The tidal wave stopped just before Naomi Ishizawa’s home Like many people throughout Japan's north east, she had not heard from others in her family and was worried. “My uncle and his family live in an area near the shore where there were a lot of deaths,” Ms Ishizawa said. “We can't reach them.”