At Sendai, echoes of Hurricane Katrina and Haiti

A man walks past rubbish and debris washed inshore by the tsunami near Sendai in Miyagi prefecture on March 13, 2011 two days after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit the region. Japan battled a feared meltdown of two reactors at a quake-hit nuclear plant on March 13, as the full horror of the disaster emerged on the ravaged northeast coast with thousands feared dead. AFP PHOTO / MIKE CLARKE (Photo credit should read MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images) MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

Japan Sendai
A man walks past rubbish and debris washed inshore by the tsunami near Sendai in Miyagi prefecture on March 13, 2011 two days after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit the region.
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

I have covered many disasters: Katrina, Haiti, now Sendai. In each the pain is unique and profound; impossible, even insensative to compare.

But I offer this observation. I covered Katrina along the Gulf Coast. Biloxi was made Hell by high water. Haiti was reduced to rubble by earthquake. Sendai was laid waste by both. By the coast, what wasn't knocked down by the earthquake was washed away by the tsunami's powerful surge.

The results in Biloxi, Port-au-Prince and Sendai are the same. The world is turned upside down, the landscape is unrecognizable, people walk around in dazed disbelief. Survival: water, food, shelter, are the primary concern. 

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In all three disasters, survivors - even in their shock and distress - worry about and care for their families, their neighbors, even strangers in need. When faced with hell people always seem to find their better angels.

In Sendai people are still trying to comprehend the magnitude of this disaster. If the Gulf Coast and Haiti are the examples I think they are, worries about recovery and rebuilding are luxuries that will come much later.

  • Bill Whitaker

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