SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

The World

March 12, 2011

Scenes of devastation at heart of Japan disaster

SENDAI, Japan — Miles from the ocean's edge, weary, mud-spattered survivors wandered streets strewn with fallen trees, crumpled cars, even small airplanes. Relics of lives now destroyed were everywhere — half a piano, a textbook, a soiled red sleeping bag.

On Saturday, 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 1 million people, 80 miles (128 kilometers) from the epicenter 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 at least one large fire billowed in the distance. Power and phone reception was cut, while hundreds of people lined up outside the few still-operating supermarkets for basic necessities. The gas stations on streets not covered with water were swamped with people waiting to fill their cars.

A convenience store three miles (five kilometers) from the shore was open for business Saturday, though there was no power and the floors were covered with a thick layer of grime.

"The flood came in from behind the store and swept around both sides," said shop owner Wakio Fushima. "Cars were flowing right by."

With most other stores closed, 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 as the massive waves swept some 6 miles (10 kilometers) inland. An unknown number of others perished.

Police said they found 200 to 300 bodies washed up on nearby beaches, but authorities are only now getting a look at the extent of the devastation in Sendai and along the coast.

Rail operators lost contact with four trains running on coastal lines Friday and still had not found them Saturday afternoon, Kyodo News agency reported. The East Japan Railway Co. said it did not know how many people were aboard.

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