Japan may be world's biggest ship graveyard

tsunami in japan
Kesennuma City in northern Japan

The March 8 earthquake and tsunami in Japan killed about 25,000 and spawned a nuclear crisis and billions of dollars of damage. A huge section of northern Japan was left in ruins, including a lot of fishing communities.

CBS News correspondent Lucy Craft reports that, months later, the reminders are everywhere. In one town, Kesennuma City, known as Japan's fishing Mecca, the tsunami transformed it into the world's biggest ship graveyard.

Thousands of boats - from ocean vessels to light skiffs - washed ashore, where they remain stranded. Marooned and useless, the vessels tower dangerously where stores and homes once stood.

Residents tell stories of watching ships roll down the street, and then remaining there after the water receded. The beached ships are just another obstacle for this decimated town, where the fishing industry supports eight out of 10 workers.

"The ships are standing in the way of fixing our roads, and disposing of debris. Also these ships are extremely important to us economically. We need to get as many ships as possible back in the water," said Shigeru Sugawara, mayor of Kesennuma City.

The same giant wave that washed the ships inland has left the area literally drowning in all kinds of debris. There just isn't enough room to dump it.

Complete coverage: Disaster in Japan

There are tens of millions of tons of debris, mostly pieces of wood and twisted metal, showing how little progress has been made since these 140-ton ships came to rest on the streets of downtown Kesennuma.

In Kesennuma's prefecture alone there are mountains of tires, refrigerators, and tatami mats. The amounts are so vast, they add up to 23 years' worth of garbage.

A local sanitation engineer told CBS News, "We're telling people the cleanup will take three years. But to tell the truth, we have no idea how much manpower and machinery this will require."

The gargantuan cleanup has also been slowed because soldiers must sift through every inch of debris, in hopes of finding more of the over 10,000 victims still missing.

A tsunami that washed across the landscape in just minutes has devastated the region so severely experts estimate it will take a decade to recover.