As the March 11, magnitude 9.0, earthquake shook the Japanese people to its core, a deep sea diver working in the water as the quake hit, recalls the experience: “The seafloor was snapping, twisting and turning like a fish pulled out of the water. It was roaring and groaning with such an intense and frightening noise, torturing every fibre of my body.”
In the 30 minutes that passed between the ground stopped moving, and the first tsunami waves hit the coast, the diver reached land and fled for higher ground. Beneath him his life as a fisherman was swept away, along with his village. As the waves spread, hitting further and further down the coast, the story of destruction repeated itself in one coastal city after another, making this the worst natural disaster in the history of Japan.
As the water withdrew, and in the following months, the japanese people found themselves left behind with more than 15,000 confirmed deaths and almost 8,000 missing. 300,000 people were left with no home and evacuation centers opened in all the affected areas. As of mid May more than 115,000 were still living in these centers, as refugees in their own country, awaiting temporary housing. Suicide rates were soaring, as people lost hope in getting their lives back on track.
Japan, a country resting on four tectonic plates, is no foreign land to earthquakes and tsunamis. Shakings of the ground is an almost daily event and everybody is educated from childhood in how to handle these situations. Had it only been for the quake, not much damage would have occurred. However, no risk calculation had taken into account a mass of water on this scale.
Ranging in height from a few meters up to 38 meters, the tsunami wave was unstoppable in its deadly path. Seawalls were washed away like plastic toys on a summer beach. Houses were lifted, in a clean cut from their foundation, and carried away by the water. Entire towns were wiped away, leaving nothing behind, as building regulations were based on smaller tsunami heights, leaving many people to believe they were safe.
Ishinomaki Bay, looking south over the sea. The face of the ocean is calm, as if today was no different than yesterday. Behind, the city of Ishinomaki is recovering from the impact with the tsunami waves that rushed passed here, directly towards the city center.
Oshika peninsula, a village is completely wiped out as the tsunami wave was forced into the narrow bay, making the wave higher. This is one out of many villages like it along the coast of the peninsula.
Ishinomaki. Officials from Japan Air Self Defense forces overlooking the towncenter. The damage is very localized, varying within a few hundred meters from complete destruction, over extensive water damage to no damage at all.
A long stretch of flat land, just on the coastline is left with few houses standing and completely covered in rubble.
A man biking through the rubble. Many still return to their neighborhoods searching for belongings, and memories of their loved ones, lost in the water.
A classroom converted into temporary housing for several families, with no privacy or timeframe for when they will have a home again.
Police forces from all over the country are searching the rubble for bodies, in an increasing smell of decay.
A soldier is passing by a damaged house, its first floor resting on other rubble, a doorframe and two wooden beams.
Ishinomaki Paper Mill, a huge paper factory and employer to 822 people, now in complete closedown as the factory itself and surrounding areas were shattered by the tsunami wave. Cargo trains and containers have been tumbled around as weightless objects. 2 people lost their lives in the factory when the tsunami hit, and 3 remain unaccounted for.
The village of Hashiura, 600 meters inland, behind big protective dikes, the water still flooded this village with about 1 meter of water.
A cemetery in Ishinomaki, Japan, April 2011. Cars have been stopped by the foot of a mountain, leaving them spread among the graves as the water receded.
A tower of a temple remains, as an island in a massive sea of rubble.
A community pool surrounded by a thick layer of mud and flooded with black water, cars and rubble.
A Statue Of Liberty copy stretches her torch towards a dark sky, she remains as one of the few standing structures on this island in the river that cuts through Ishinomaki.
To explore more stories from the Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster, please check the Japan disaster category