June 17, 2011

First-hand documentaries from the Tohoku quake and tsunami

Posted by Austin Elliott

Several eye-witnesses of the March 11 M9.0 in Japan have posted chilling first-hand footage of their experiences. The following two videos document the entire disaster, from the shaking until deep into the tsunami.

First, here’s the harrowing video taken by a professional storm chaser who happened to be in Otsuchi, Japan doing volunteer work for Save Japan Dolphins when the earthquake roared along the coast. He struggles to keep his balance at the tail end of the earthquake, then they hop in their car and spend eight precious minutes fleeing to high ground with the rest of the alarmed population. These guys are clearly professionals; they have incredible composure. As they navigate their way through town you hear radio correspondence with a second car behind them full of other dolphin activists, the Sea Shepherds. While the tsunami roils its way into the bay from the open ocean, the water level creeps up and floods the seaside industrial buildings. As usual with footage of the tsunami, it keeps on coming, getting higher and higher against all belief.

This next video is unprecedented: a high-def dashboard camera in a bus records the entire event, most of it from in/on the tsunami! It was recently recovered, and we get to witness its journey. It would be marvelous if someone who knows Japanese could do a little translation of this report. Watch this; the following text is a spoiler.

It’s incredible to watch as the bus helplessly bobs with mounds of urban flotsam, but the literally immersive perspective reveals fascinating gradients in the velocity and height of the tsunami’s flow as it rages through city streets. The bus seems for a while fortunately stuck in an eddy behind a huge concrete building… until it gets entrained in a rapid flow and slammed up against something, at which point debris pierces the windshield, water rushes in, and the camera dies.

There’s at least one more street-level recording of the tsunami pouring into town. Once again what begins high and dry ends up so far below water it defies imagination.