Scenic Japan road is now Tsunami Highway

Mon Mar 28, 2011 12:50am EDT
 
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By Jon Herskovitz

KIRIKIRI, Japan (Reuters) - The signs posted at intervals along the coastal road in northeast Japan read "End of Estimated Tsunami Inundation Zone." The obliterated landscape beyond shows the estimations were badly out.

Route 45 was once one of Japan's more scenic drives, hugging the coast for hundreds of kilometers, but the earthquake on March 11 unleashed a wall of water that tore through the region, leaving a path of destruction behind it.

Police, fire fighters and the inevitable disaster sightseers now travel the road from the northern city of Miyako, where an elaborate sea wall system proved helpless against waves as high as four-storey buildings, south to the area around a crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture.

The road scampers up mountains and into cities nestled in the hills that had their centers ripped out by the tsunami, leaving surreal scenes of destruction.

Ships are stacked on cars and buildings; cars have ended up in hotel lobbies; fishing gear is wrapped around a power pole that crashed through the window of a convenience store, which was also hit by a floating house.

Sightseers stop in the parking lot of the heavily damaged Namizaka Tourist Hotel along the coast, where someone's home came to rest a few metres from the entrance.

"These aren't the towns that were once here. It's terrible. It's so tough to see," said Misato Chiba in the car park overlooking the sea. "Route 45 is all ripped up now. The towns are a mess and it's just dangerous."

MASS GRAVES   Continued...