13 Apr 2011

Japan tsunami video: panic as people flee for their lives

New footage has emerged of Japanese residents trying desperately to outrun the incoming tsunami, as huge torrents of water crash through a coastal town carrying houses and people in its wake.

Japan tsunami video: panic as people flee for their lives

Fresh eyewitness video has emerged of the panic and terror faced by residents in a Japanese town – believed to be Minamisanriku – as huge swathes of water race through streets swallowing people and houses.

The amateur footage captures people desperately trying to outrun the tsunami while others battle to rescue villagers being swept away in the torrents of water.

The fate of a number of people in the footage is unknown as the camera pans across the mass of water surging towards residents gathered on the safety of a hill.

Screams of despair and panic can be heard as people try to flee to higher ground as houses, cars and debris sweep towards them in the wall of fast-flowing water.

Another group try desperately to save people caught-up in the torrent.

A man dressed in black runs to help residents trying to heave what is thought to be a person in a wheelchair from the surging water.

Moments later he and another person dressed in red are swept away. The man in red manages to grab a railing and pull himself out of danger, while the man in black is swept away off camera.

Viewers may find the following footage distressing.

The tsunami struck along Japan’s east coast on March 11 triggered by a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake. The tsunami devastated huge swathes of the coastline killing thousands of people and causing a nuclear crisis.

Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson first visited the coastal town of Minamisanriku three days after it was swept away by the tsunami. Tens of thousands are estimated to have died in the town alone.

In 30 years as a war correspondent – covering 20 wars and several major earthquakes – Alex Thomson said he had never seen anything on the scale of the devastation he witnessed.

“One minute you are passing through towns and villages completely untouched by natural disaster – not even a pane missing from the windows – and then as you turn the corner it suddenly hits you,” Alex Thomson wrote.

“The most astonishing view stretches out below us down the valley towards the sea for at least four miles. An entire town of at least 17,000 people has simply ceased to exist here. The scale of it is horrifying.

“At least 95 per cent of the buildings are not merely ruined; they have been reduced to a vast morass of splintered wood, jagged concrete and twisted metal.

“All of this is hideously decorated with the details of destroyed family lives: a woman smiles up from her wedding photographs, a smashed guitar lies in the debris. I see a broken doll, and the pages from a child’s school exercise book. All the mementoes of people’s lives are ground into the mud or floating in the wind.

“Looking at them you can’t help but ask: ‘Is the person who owned this still alive?'”

Read more from Alex Thomson’s experiences in Minamisanriku here.

Nuclear crisis continues

A month on from the disaster and workers at the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima are still working on a detailed plan to end the crisis, as tests show radiation levels in the sea nest the complex have spiked.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said the latest tests showed radiation nearly doubled last week, to 23 times above legal limits, in the sea off Minami Soma city near the plant.

A series of strong aftershocks this week has rattled eastern Japan, slowing the recovery effort at the Fukushima Daiichi plant due to temporary evacuations of workers and power outages.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), said the situation had stabilised, but that a blueprint to end the crisis – now rated on the same level as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster – was still being planned.

Japan expanded the 20 km (12 miles) evacuation zone around the Daiichi plant on Monday because of high levels of accumulated radiation.

Last month the Mayor of Minami Soma, which sits on the edge of the exclusion zone, pleaded for help on a video posted on YouTube.

Katsunobu Sakurai appealed to volunteers to help his city as residents who have not yet evacuated struggle with a “substantial lack of supplies”.

“Many people here are left without transportation,” Sakurai said in a video appeal for citizen volunteers posted online last week. “They can hardly get any supplies delivered to their homes. We regret to say this, but we have to ask volunteers to act at their own risk.”