In a dramatic and poignant moment, a government official burst into tears when I asked her how many towns and villages might have been destroyed.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Naoto Kan told me that there was no way of knowing the full extent of the damage because it has been difficult to make an estimate.
"We have seen some villages that were totally wiped out," he said. "We need to reconstruct entire villages."
In a normal emergency, the central government relies on the prefectures and the prefectures rely on the local officials to report what has happened.
But as the spokesperson told us, in this case, "the officials are gone," meaning that the people who would normally provide the government with these damage assessments are either dead, missing or not able to communicate with the central government.
Kan added that the government's focus was on caring for the living, not so much counting the dead at this time.
"It's going to take time focusing on rescue," he said. "[People] need shelter. They have been evacuated. they need temporary housing."
Kan also acknowledged that the situation at the Kukushima nuclear power plant was one of the government's biggest worries.
"I think situation is under control, but we have to watch out," he said. "There are aftershocks. We have to be vigilant about those."
But Kan downplayed the issue of potentially deadly radiation levels in the air, and said he didn't think there was a risk of a meltdown.
"We knew some would be emitted because of venting," he said. "But that level is very low."