SENDAI, Japan, March 14, 2011 -- First came the horse, then the house.
After landing in Tokyo, sticking radiation detectors to our collars and driving seven hours through the moonless night, we saw the first signs of the tsunami's wrath on the road to the Sendai airport.
Looming in our headlights emerged massive sculptures of destruction: gnarled tree roots propping up a battered Toyota mini-van, the severed roof of a home filled with mud.
There was not a single sign of life until a bewildered horse appeared in the beams and calmly watched us drive by.
We then came upon another shattered house blocking the roadway, so we turned back and found the stoplights blinking red and green in the apocalyptic hellscape.
It was the first sign of power in days, so locals were lined up at a nearby gas station hoping to buy precious fuel. Without it, they have no way to flee a radioactive cloud if the Fukushima nuclear reactor, about 50 miles to the south, failed.
An elderly man named Saito wandered by our car. He told me that his brother, sister-in-law, niece and niece's child were all killed in the wake of the tsunami disaster.
"I haven't had time to mourn," he said.
Japanese officials announced the death toll today at 1,900 people, but it's expected to be in the tens of thousands as many continue to search for the missing.
Dawn broke as we reached the Sendai airport. It was a giant muddy stew of trashed airplanes, children's mattresses and even a mailbox with soggy letters still inside.
This sort of chaos would be obscene anywhere, but it stood in stark relief to the legendary Japanese order that still exists just a few blocks from here.
I'm afraid to peek into the battered cars piled all around. Odds are that at least one of them holds a body.