SENDAI, Japan, Mar 13 – Wastelands of mud and debris now stretch along Japan\’s northeast coast where towns and villages used to be, consumed by a terrifying tsunami triggered by Japan\’s biggest ever earthquake.
The port town of Minamisanriku was practically erased, over half its 17,500 population unaccounted for after huge waves inundated the area following the 8.9 magnitude quake, a hospital one of few structures remaining.
For the lucky ones, such as some residents in Kamaishi city, tsunami evacuation sirens came quickly enough for them to scramble up to higher ground before watching in horror as the raging sea tore through their homes.
The sheer power of the water tossed cars like small toys, and upturned lorries that now litter the roads in Sendai city where the haunting drone of tsunami sirens at one point echoed into the cold night.
Dislodged shipping containers piled up along the coastline and swathes of mangled wreckage consumed what used to be rice fields.
An elderly woman wrapped in a blanket tearfully recalled how she and her husband evacuated from Kesennuma town, north of Miyagi prefecture, where a massive tsunami swept through a fishing port.
"I was trying to escape with my husband, but water quickly emerged against us and forced us to run up to the second story of a house of people we don\’t even know at all," she told NHK.
"Water still came up to the second floor, and before our eyes, the house\’s owner and his daughter were flushed away. We couldn\’t do anything. Nothing."
As Sendai city endured a pitch-black night amid a power blackout, Sendai Teishin Hospital spokesman Masayoshi Yamamoto told AFP the building was able to keep its lights on using its own power generators, drawing in survivors.
Around 50 people arrived looking to shelter from the cold night air in the lobby of the downtown Sendai city hospital, he said.
"Many of them are from outside Miyagi prefecture, who had visited some patients here or came in search of essential medicines," he told AFP, adding that people were without electricity and water.
But with water supply cut, Yamamoto said hospital officials were worried about how long its tank-based supply would last. The hospital may also run out of food for its patients by Monday.
"We have asked other hospitals to provide food for us, but transportation itself seems difficult," he said.
Friday\’s 8.9 magnitude quake, one of the biggest ever recorded, unleashed a terrifying tsunami that engulfed towns and cities on Japan\’s northeastern coast, destroying everything in its path in what Prime Minister Naoto Kan said was an "unprecedented national disaster".
Japan desperately tried to bring another overheating nuclear reactor under control on Sunday, as the full horror of its quake-tsunami disaster continued to emerge with fears the final death toll would run into the thousands.
An explosion at the Fukushima atomic plant blew off the roof and walls around one of its reactors Saturday, triggering fears of a meltdown.
Along the northeast coast the nuclear threat cast a deep shadow over rescue efforts. Police and military reported finding groups of hundreds of bodies at locations along the shattered coastline, including more than 200 at a new site on Sunday.
Rescue workers in Sendai picked through the debris but on many occasions the job was only one of recovery, as teams of workers pulled bodies out of the horrific tangle of wood and rubble, placed them in green bags and into vans.
Survivors surveyed the wreckage of crushed buildings. Curtains still hanging in the shattered windows of crumpled houses fluttered gently in the breeze.