August 13, 2013

Another heart-stopping tsunami video from Japan

Posted by Austin Elliott

A “new” video has emerged of the Tohoku tsunami racing inland in a Japanese port town. I don’t know that it’s never been released before, but I sure haven’t seen it, and I’ve seen basically all of them.

The video is embedded at the end of this post.
Update 8/19/13: I have changed the video link to a more original YouTube video. It appears that the videographer is a Mr. Kenichi Kurakami, a brave soul indeed.

in it comes. Screengrab from the video below.

in it comes. Screengrab from the video below.

As in the multitude of tsunami videos before it, the footage here is jaw-dropping. The Tohoku tsunami was so horrifyingly huge that no matter how much you expect it, it’s always shocking to watch just how relentlessly it surges inland.

In this video, filmed in Kesennuma Port (as an aside, with no knowledge but the background of the video and a keen eye for satellite imagery, it took me about 5 minutes to find the exact spot this is filmed from in Google Maps–I surprise myself sometimes) it’s at once easy to understand the witnesses’ initial disbelief, and impossible to comprehend their horror and dismay as they get chased to the upper stories of an apartment building, only to be trapped there watching their town ravaged by water, earth, and fire. Kesennuma Port is also the site of at least two of the other particularly dramatic videos of this tsunami.

There are a ton of things to note and learn from in this video. The power behind the wave is immediately clear, even in the small initial surge. Then the ocean rushes inland with incredible speed and volume. The Tohoku tsunami is incredibly scary because of the way it gets worse and worse faster and faster. This shocking intensification can be traced back to the original rupture of the seafloor, which lurched outward and upward most violently at the patch farthest from the coast. With hindsight, we watch in horror as the townspeople look on without fleeing. But consider: before having seen all these videos, would you have ever suspected what was about to come? Footage like this helps us appreciate the deceptive danger of these incredible disasters so that we may heed what warning we have in the future with true humility.

The notable element of this video that separates it from the others is the way it lingers in the aftermath, giving a glimpse into the dire and excruciating dusk as a monstrous fire breaks out in town, and the ocean continues to surge in and out in gargantuan waves. The fleeing strangers are now trapped together in a dark apartment surrounded by the wreckage of their town, with ongoing threats assailing them from outside. At this point, you would suspect anything could happen next.


The video is long, but the drama of the event is so captivating I can’t imagine you’d want to skip around. It’s a fine replacement for a contrived 23-minute episode of TV drama. In any case, if you do want to “fast forward”, and since I did watch the whole thing, I’ll finish off with a timeline of the key elements (don’t get tempted to read these spoilers if you’re going for the full dramatic effect).

0:00 – 1:45 – drawdown of river water
1:00 – civil warning announcements
1:45 – inbound tsunami first appears
3:25 – boats get ripped from moorings, water velocity quickly becomes apparent
5:26 – sirens sound and people *finally* decide to flee. Eeek.
6:13 – Not sure that’s “high ground”
6:24 – pedestrian bridge takes hard buffeting
6:51 – retreat up the stairs
7:12 – water overtops wall
8:13 – pedestrial bridge taken out
9:30 – huge slug of debris shows up
10:46 – first of many ruptured fuel tanks spews pressurized vapor. (YouTube conspiracy theorists, delight!)
11:10 – water high enough to start taking out local cars/trees/structures/power lines
19:53 – scene change, water finally receding, fire started
20:00 – patronizingly indifferent snow begins falling
22:40 – sunset, still stuck, fire hugely expanded, new surges of tsunami