THE beleaguered city of Sendai on the north-east coast of Japan was close to the epicentre of the massive earthquake which shook the island yesterday, and sustained some of the most horrific damage in the ensuing tsunami.
With a population of around one million, Sendai is the regional capital of the Miyagi prefecture and its residents bore the brunt of the devastating natural disaster.
Police in the prefecture said last night around 200 to 300 bodies had already been found in the city.
A further 151 were confirmed killed, with more than 500 missing. Police also said around 800 people were injured.
As first light broke in Sendai on the morning after the tsunami struck, the first reports began to appear of the plight of people living in the city.
“A big area of Sendai city near the coast, is flooded,” said Rie Sugimoto, a reporter for Japan’s NHK Television based in Sendai. “We are hearing that people who were evacuated are stranded.
“About 140 people, including children, were rushed to an elementary school and are on the rooftop – but they are surrounded by water and have nowhere else to go.”
Meanwhile shocking video footage showed vast sections of Kesennuma, a small town of 70,000 people to the north of Sendai, fully ablaze, with firefighters battling in vain to put it out.
With most lines of communication down, full details of the situation in the north-east were not clear.
But throughout yesterday, tales of the widespread devastation had begun to trickle through
Dramatic video footage beamed around the world showed Sendai Airport being engulfed in flood waters as the tsunami struck.
Police later revealed one passenger train was missing in Miyagi prefecture and another had derailed, and that a ship carrying 100 people had been swept away when the first waves struck.
A major explosion hit a petrochemical plant in Sendai, causing a massive fire. And further south, a huge blaze swept through an oil refinery in Ichihara city, in Chiba prefecture.
Japanese media reported some 1,800 homes had been destroyed in the city of Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture
And a dam burst in north-eastern Fukushima prefecture, sweeping away homes.
It appears many residents had little time to react to the situation.
Japan has long prided itself on its speedy tsunami warning system, which has been upgraded several times since it was first built in 1952. The country has also built countless breakwaters and floodgates to protect ports and coastal areas.
But experts said even the best measures available would not have been sufficient to prevent widespread damage.
Last night the country continued to be rocked by a series of hugely powerful aftershocks.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency said a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck the central, mountainous part of the country hours after the original quake .
Dozens of aftershocks have rattled Japan’s north-east since the magnitude 8.9 tremor, but the most recent quake was in an entirely different location.
The latest quake hit at a depth of six miles, about 105 miles north of Tokyo.
It caused buildings in Tokyo to sway, but there were no immediate reports of damage.