Pieces of news becoming available in Japan paint a picture of immense devastation. No real global picture of the situation as it stands has emerged. Spending a second, bitterly cold, night in shelters, many people are isolated, without power, hungry, and unsure what is going to happen next, or when they are going to be rescued. In some places, there is simply no information, as there seems to be no functioning local government, police force, or fire department. Everything has been washed away.
Indicative of the potential scale of this disaster is the news that the authorities cannot account for 10,000 people in Minami-Sanriku. There are many towns that have been variously described as completely or substantially destroyed or washed away. These are relatively large cities and towns, where some information is available. Many smaller towns and settlements on the coast have not reported, and no one knows the how many people have survived and are waiting for help.
The official figures released by the National Police Agency, on which many reports are based, only include the confirmed figures for the dead, and the reported numbers of the missing. Given there are so many people who have not been account for, the likelihood is that this is going to be a natural disaster of unheard proportions in Japan’s history.
The phrase national disaster is often used too readily, but there is nothing cliché about it when applied to this earthquake and its aftermath.