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.
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.