Japan: terrifying eyewitness video of tsunami destroying an entire town

A six-minute video of the Japan tsunami destroying a town in the northern part of the country. While I cannot yet confirm who shot the video, or the location shown, various observers have ID'd the site as Kesennuma, in Miyagi Prefecture. (thanks, Sean Bonner, via Reddit, also seen on Gawker)


  1. This was filmed by a local of the town. The person who filmed it makes reference to his home and points to where it was in the video and in later news reports. This is not anywhere near Tokyo obviously.

  2. My god… I understood the concept of what a tsunami was, but no scientific explanation can possibly convey the reality.

    Water, at speed, with no end.

    From that video, it looks as though the inward flow mast have lasted for quite some time. Are there any estimates on how long the total event would have lasted – from the initial wave, to full reverse of the water back out to sea?

  3. I believe that between the coverage of Libya and Japan this last month will prove to be when the ‘net eclipsed the tee-vee.

    The US media has been starved to the point of being utterly useless, and in fact, cannot at this point even keep down solid food.

  4. The earthquake information on the screen shows this is just a video of a broadcast. It’s certainly authentic video though.

  5. This video was clearly not shot by Whyte, and he makes no claims to have shot it, it was shot by a local and is being presented on the news in Japan.

  6. Here’s a link to a Google Maps street view of the exact spot this video was taken from. As you move around you can see the buildings and even the exact vantage point on the hill where the video shooter was standing. Absolutely horrific stuff.


    1. Nice work on the street view. Hopefully Google will archive it as a record of what the town looked like before the cataclysm.

      That video was unbelievable. Wonder how many people were still in those buildings when they got inundated with seawater, then torn off their foundations.

      1. Your point about Google now having a responsibility to archive it’s Street views and satellite pix as an historical record it a good one. Imagine how amazing these street view “before” pix will be in 100 years.

        Does anyone know if Google is thinking about this? Maybe “old” street view pix should be submitted to the library of Congress (or it’s international equivalent).

        (I had to watch this video 3 times to accept it as real. Not that I doubted it’s voracity, my brain just couldn’t accept what I was seeing… omg.)

    2. This is, in some ways, even more surreal, because we’ve seen what happened to it. That white delivery truck (or one just like it in the same location) that the person at the beginning is getting into is visible, too.

  7. I wonder if the white car — the one still on the road at the beginning, not the floating one — managed to make it to safety. I rather doubt it, but I imagine someday we may hear.

    1. I was thinking the exact same thing. In addition to that, in the upper left there is someone who appears to be trying to get in a delivery truck. So many dead…This video is worse than any horror movie I’ve seen. The reality of it just pierces me. It’s really hard to convey the feeling of it. Suddenly our civilization and the people in it seems so fragile.

  8. I kept yelling at the screen for the guy/gal filming to GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!?

    Horrifying, just horrifying. How do you even begin plan for that kind of disaster? Serious question.

    Think I’ll go catalogue the bugout bag, see if there’s anything that’s been “borrowed” and needs to be replaced.

  9. That could be so many other places. We all live in places that are susceptable to one, if not multiple, natural disasters. When I get into my bed at night, I reflect on how fortunate I am. I’m in Los Angeles and we are way overdue for the big one. I don’t give nearly as much to charity as I should, but now I’m going to sacrifice a little “play” money for the survival of fellow humans.

  10. Whoever the videographer was, they deserve whatever the Japanese version of a Pulitzer is.

    Excellent, clear footage which is shot very courageously and professionally despite the frightening and overwhelming circumstances.

    Wow. Just, wow.

  11. Living near the beach in Los Angeles, this video made me reevaluate my entire life here. There are more benign places on the planet to live where this kind of horror won’t happen. I’m moving there.

    1. This is truly amazing, horrifying footage. The water just keeps getting higher!

      In re: the beach in Los Angeles, it’s certainly possible for us to get hit with a tsunami, but the dangers are not quite the same. I heard Caltech seismologist point out that our biggest danger is from the San Andreas fault, which is really only capable of causing an 7.8, and it’s not underwater here, so it wouldn’t cause a tsunami. The damage would be more from ground shaking.

      We could, of course, be subject to a tsunami from elsewhere. But the east coast of Japan faces a big subduction zone not very far off of the coast; the San Andreas emerges into the ocean north of San Francisco but is a transform boundary, which doesn’t generally displace as much volume. The closest subduction zone is up off of the coast of the Pacific Northwest, where the Juan de Fuca plate is running underneath the North American plate.

      So yes, we’re not immune to these things, but do keep in mind that there are relative levels of risk. Tsunami large enough to cause damage are still quite rare, and less dramatic natural phenomena like blizzards or heat waves generally kill more people in the United States than earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes.

  12. Mind boggling – and a friend told me he went to the harbor in Santa Cruz to watch the tsunami.

    Infinitely powerful and completely unpredictable.

    1. The videos of the tsunami in Santa Cruz give quite a good reference point for the power of water. It’s this little wave that doesn’t look like it could hurt anything, and it does several million dollars worth of damage. When you realize how much damage a foot-high tsunami can do, you understand better how a ten meter wave just scours away everything in its path.

  13. It’s not like I imagined a tsunami to be, but is almost as scary. Like a rushing river just suddenly appearing over every open area and becoming deeper and faster by the minute… like a true river, it could look deceptively safe, if it weren’t for the cars, boats and entire buildings floating by like toys in a bathtub.

  14. Who reports that James MacWhyte shot this video? He seems to have posted it on Facebook as grab from the TV news, which it clearly is:

    I want to show everyone the news media we are being presented with here in Japan. I think it’s quite different from what you see on CNN and other Western news outlets. One thing about Japan–there are professional cameramen EVERYWHERE! It reminds me of the Vietnam war, and how it was the first time the US got real-time, color footage of a war zone. Since the quake, we’ve had lots of steady, HD video playing non-stop, showing you exactly what it would be like to witness the disaster first hand. Watch it in full-screen, and please share on your wall!!

    He makes an interesting observation but he doesn’t claim he shot it.

  15. This is extraordinary. But here in Japan we’ve seen much more dramatic. In this town, the water is somewhat politely making its way between buildings. There are a number of videos shown from 30+ metres up showing the wall of water at first bursting through buildings (to say nothing of what was happening to the cars, boats etc), then washing them away… reaching third floors in seconds. They’re bound to go international soon enough. That 7+ metre wall makes this look positively calm in comparison. It could only have been filmed from a safe vantage, for obvious reasons.

    1. They seem calm and collected, but really what they are is prepared. Tsunami is a Japanese word – they know the country is prone to them and they’ve taken measures to prepare. While probably nothing can really prepare you for the horror of living through it for real, having a plan, drills since childhood and emergency services like sirens and escape routes must be of help in putting people into autopilot. You do what you rehearsed.

  16. I’m TOTALLY switching to Japanism. Did you see how calm and collected everyone is? Instead of panic and hysteria (and the knee-jerk reactions that always make things worst), the Japanese seem to maintain a clear head that I can only assume helps them getting through this, and put their efforts in solving whatever challenges come their way.

    I’m not claiming that there isn’t panic and consequence – but for the most part, and relying on all reports so far, thoughtful calmness seems to be widespread. Man, they rock!

    1. Did you see how calm and collected everyone is?

      I viewed it as “paralyzed with fear.”

  17. I wonder what happened to the people who were standing on the remains of a building opposite in the last few seconds of the video. I hope they survived. Does anyone know?

  18. All of these videos are from TV broadcasts.The lower right corner of the screen shows the tsunami warning graphics that have been broadcast 24 hours a day until Monday since last Friday the 11th.

  19. The stuff of nightmares, the momentum and power is relentless.

    It’s so terrifying and unreal because the sense of scale is completely the reverse of everyday experience, as if our houses and towns – these worlds we construct around ourselves – are just tiny matchstick models.

    1. Nightmares, indeed. There’s something primal about a relentless tide swallowing up everything in its path.

      I spent the morning before work watching videos that I’ve otherwise avoided so far. What gets me are all these aerial shots where you can see, off to the side of the frame, people driving, presumably unaware of how close the water will be. There’s also that now infamous shot of the waters pouring over the Sendai farmlands. I look at them and think, there is absolutely no way to out-run or hide from this. And you can’t help but think about what you would do in this situation.

  20. Hanglyman: It’s not like I imagined a tsunami to be

    Exactly, a lot of people (most?) still think of some Hollywood tidal wave, crashing down from above (think the end of Deep Impact), not some steadily rising river.

    Maybe an end to the disaster-porn Hollywood’s been peddling the last few years? Probably not…

    1. indeed, you speak truth.

      Prior to the Christmas day tsunami of 2004, the broad masses of people who do not live on Pacific Islands, not along that Ocean’s coasts, did not have any real means of seeing what an actual tsunami looks like, how it moves and operates, and the immense devastation which they cause.

      The explosion of home video recording devices , combined with the events of Christmas 2004, changed that forever.

      This horrific event in Japan, with its legions of filmmakers and photographers recording the sights, from all walks of life, will inevitably render us even more sensitized to this particular danger.

      As we should be: the lack of such ‘on the spot’ film records of tsunamis in progress prevented us from fully appreciating this tremendous hazard of seaside living.

      The events of the past 8 years have perhaps irrevocably changed the idea of tsunamis from what they had been in the ignorant public mind, for now our ignorance has been dispelled.

  21. One has to wonder how many other videos there were that we don’t get to see because the people filming them were swept away. Whoever filmed this seems to have been incredibly lucky that the small hill he/she climbed was high enough – watching the beginning without knowing the end, it’s impossible to know just how high the waters were going to get.

  22. There are a few videos like this from the 2004 tsunami, which have been incredibly useful for scientists and to illustrate the true danger of tsunamis to the public. Considering how penetration of technology is so great in Japan, I was wholly expecting we’d see lots of videos like this – the places hit by the 2004 tsunami are quite poor, so few had good recording equipment (but the video that exists is still astonishing).

    My adviser when I was in grad school is a structural geologist (which is my interest and what I did my research on) but due to his extensive ties to geology departments in Thailand he switched focus to studying tsunamis after 2004. So, I’ve seen all the videos and have learned quite a bit about them.

    This video was excellent for a variety of reasons. I doubt US news channels would have the patience to broadcast the whole thing, but I hope that they do, as this video is one of the best illustrations of what a tsunami is and what its effects are that I’ve ever seen (even if this wasn’t the hardest-hit area).

    Based on some of the comments here I looked up some videos of the tsunami hitting Santa Cruz (and you can be sure that if I still lived in California I would have gone out to watch and record video) and the contrast is stark. You hear people yelling stuff like “Oh god, my yacht!”

    Of course there was no great danger (except to some idiots who went out to check on their yachts after the first wave hit) but still I do wonder how people in the US will react to a real disaster here.

    By the way, there is a Korean disaster movie about a tsunami called “Haeundae” which is the name of the coastal town in the film (renamed to simply “Tidal Wave” for English-language distribution). The science is exaggerated, as you’d expect, but when the tsunami actually hits the depiction is quite realistic. It looks very similar to this video. Just in case anyone thought no one ever got it right in the movies.

    1. interesting….iirc, tsunamis had a very small place in the public eye prior to 2004.

      Have you any knowledge of footage of tsunamis which was taken prior to the events of Christmas 2004?

      i’m unaware of any such which may exist – that’s why I’m asking.

      is the existence of film footage of tsunamis really that recent? 2004?

      1. I remember seeing film of the 1964 Anchorage quake/tsunami, possibly from Crescent City? ? It’s a vague memory, but it was a guy standing on the end of a dock with his dog, watching the bay empty of water. And when the camera panned back, the dog was gone, the guy was gone, the dock was gone. Just that fast.

  23. This videographer has balls of iron. As someone mentioned, he/she does indeed deserve some kind of reward. I also give him/her credit for being silent throughout and let the video speak for itself.

    Sending out good thoughts to Japan.

  24. It occurs to me just now that in contrast to the indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, these images are of cold black North Pacific waters coming ashore.


  25. AND the above link no longer works. I tried to find the video on Asahi TV, but no dice. Anybody got a link? Preferably to a downloadable version? Thanks!

    1. >> Anybody got a link? Preferably to a downloadable version? Thanks!

      seconded! would love to see the video

    1. It sure looks like it to me…and thank you for the link, as video at the link in the article would play back in my browser in a small window only.

  26. When the sirens are blaring, you occasionally hear a public address announcer saying something. I’m assume it is something akin to “run for the hills” but I was wondering if anyone has a translation of what they are saying?

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