"Is it a dream?" Stunned Japan grapples with disaster

Sun Mar 13, 2011 6:08am EDT
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By Yoko Kubota

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan (Reuters) - A wrecked airplane lies nose-deep in splintered wood from homes in the port of Sendai. An hour's drive away, workers in white masks and protective clothing scan thousands of people for radiation.

Two days after a ferocious earthquake and tsunami submerged Japan's northeast coast, killing thousands and leaving millions of people without electricity or running water, many are struggling to comprehend the scale of the disaster.

"Is it a dream? I just feel like I am in a movie or something," said Ichiro Sakamoto, 50, in Hitachi, a city in Ibaraki Prefecture. "Whenever I am alone I have to pinch my cheek to check whether it's a dream or not."

In Sendai, a city of one million, survivors and rescue workers picked through piles of rubbish mixed with wood and other debris from buildings and homes, searching for belongings and removing bodies.

Some hoarded supplies. A queue of cars waiting for fuel stretched 2 km (1.2 miles) in Sendai. About 300 people crowded into a supermarket, and about 40 lined up at Circle K Sunkus, a convenience store.

"There have been tsunami before but they were just small. No one ever thought that it could be like this," said Michiko Yamada, a 75-year-old in Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened village in far-northern Iwate prefecture.

"The tsunami was black and I saw people on cars and an old couple get swept away right in front of me."

Many bodies were discovered under rubble on Sunday in Yamada's village, where about 5,000 homes were submerged, Kyodo News reported. In nearby Otsuchi village, the town office was swept away with the mayor and local officials apparently inside.   Continued...

<p>A man and boy walk between houses destroyed by a tsunami and earthquake in Sendai, northeastern Japan March 12, 2011. REUTERS/Kyodo</p>