SHIZUGAWA, Japan » Growing up in this small fishing town on Japan’s northeastern coast, 16-year-old Minami Sato never took the annual tsunami drills seriously.
She thought the town’s thick, two-story-high harbor walls would protect against any big wave. Besides, her home was perched on a hilltop more than a mile (about two kilometers) from the water’s edge. It was also just below a designated "tsunami refuge" — an elevated patch of grass that looked safely down across the town’s highest four-story buildings.
But the colossal wave that slammed into Shizugawa last week "was beyond imagination," the high-school student said. "There was nothing we could do, but run."
The devastating tsunami that followed Friday’s massive earthquake erased Shizugawa from the map, and raised questions about what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it. More than half the town’s 17,000 people are missing and scenes of ruin dot the towns and villages along Japan’s northeastern coast, devastation not seen here since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
On Wednesday, the official death toll from the tragedy was raised to 3,676 but it is expected to climb above 10,000 as nearly 8,000 people are missing. Some 434,000 people were made homeless and are living in shelters.