The horror in Japan
One of the most uncanny things is the absence of dead bodies. We keep reading reports about whole towns swept away, 10,000 missing from a population of 17,000, but where are the bodies? It's like 9/11, when the hospitals in Manhattan were braced for a wave of casualties that never came - the bodies were just incinerated and never seen again. Weeks and months of homemade "Missing" posters on plywood barriers, growing faded and tattered, as people had to accept that they'd never really know what happened to their family members.
This reminds me a bit of the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania in 1888 - not in scale of course, but the descriptions are eerily similar. The tidal wave of water that crashed down the mountain was not a pure, white-topped wave like off the beaches of Hawaii - what we all think of when we hear the words "tidal wave". It was also cluttered with dirt and debris, and looked more like a liquified mountain churning towards the city.
The wall of debris and water came on not steadily but in an irregular series of thunderous checks and rushes.The last human remains were recovered in 1904, I think.
At times, eyewitnesses said later, the debris would even clog the path enough to bring the whole thing to a momentary standstill. All the crushed and tangled sweepings from the dam down would lock clear across the valley, seeming almost more than the millions of tons of pressure from behind could budge.
But the then whole seething mass would burst apart, with trees and telegraph poles flying into the air, as though blasted by dynamite, and the water would rush forward again, even faster. And as it moved on, the water kept on tossing logs and roots above its surface, as though the whole mass were full of life.
The friction set up by the terrain and the debris also caused the bottom of the mass of water to move much slower than the top. As a result the top was continually sliding over the bottom and down the front of the advancing wall, like a cake of ice across a slick board. The water, in other words, was rolling over itself all the time it was pressing forward, and this caused a violent downward smashing, like a monstrous surf falling on a beach, that could crush almost anything in its path. A man caught under it had no chance at ll. In fact, one of the major problems later on would be finding the bodies that had been pounded deep down into the mud.
A lot of people must have been swept back into the sea when the tsunami waters receded, and there's a hope their bodies might be found. Very soon, I expect, they'll find them floating on the surface. But I fear that many may have been crushed into the earth the way the people at Johnstown were, and the Japanese may be finding fragments of them for years.