We flew from Tokyo an hour up what looked like an unscathed country to the city of Sendai, through mountainous terrain where we saw little traffic but also no evidence of this massive earthquake.
When we first flew over Sendai, we saw a surprisingly composed city, with traffic heavy, we're told because of long lines for gas in town.
But just five minutes east of the city by chopper, the extent of the devastation becomes painfully clear. Huge swaths of land all along the coast remain under water. There are also huge plumes of smoke billowing from various points, including a huge fire at a refinery, with oil visibly spilling into the water.
Along the coast, acres of trees flattened in neat rows, showing where the wall of water roared over them.
Just beyond that, you see all that's left of what were once houses -- now just the foundations left standing in watery inlets.
Boats are smashed and piled on top of each other; cars floating with just their roofs showing above water.
A few houses do still stand, but they are among debris that packs roads and waterways.
We flew over the airport, where we saw at least six military transport helicopters, presumably part of the rescue effort. The main runway is cut in two by debris, and part of it is covered by sand and silt left behind by the wave of water.
The Sendai fire station looks badly damaged, with vehicles crushed and lots of debris. Some roads look drivable, with others heavily damaged.
We saw red vehciles, presumably from the fire dept, along one stretch of road, and out at sea, many more ships lining the coast, we assume there to help the rescue effort.
As severe as the damage was, we could see the dividing line where the water ended, leaving the rest of Sendai remarkably intact.