It was the literal end of the road. The asphalt of the two-lane highway seemed freshly laid – and almost undisturbed until it just ended. It dropped about 1,000 feet into the gorge below. Birds flew beneath. Helicopters swarmed overhead.
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Across the way, a boxy white car teetered off the edge, its back wheels dangling in thin air. It took us hours to get to this site near Mt. Aso, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. Parts of roads looked like crackers that had been whacked with a mallet.
Getting around was difficult for reporters but more importantly for rescuers. Many parts could only be reached on foot or by helicopters. This was one of them.
Last week's quakes and aftershocks had loosened the earth from the mountainside and vast chunks of the highway had disappeared into the muddy gorge below. Land had also fallen away on the other side of the gorge. The whole place smelled of freshly tilled soil. On the far side of the gorge cars were set like gems in the mud hundreds of feet below. Others were hanging off the edge.
Hiking farther up Route 57 we came to a mudslide that had taken out the road and the bridge spanning the deep gorge. We’d seen the aerial shots. It was surprisingly high. It was 30-feet thick of earth, rock and trees. Whole forests had been ripped up. I thought of the rescue workers and the nine people still considered missing there.
Its breadth was also stunning. This particular slide was well over a half mile wide. The movement of the earth had transformed its landscape.
My producer Scott Shulman and I were stunned by the scale of it all.
Coming back down we ran into a big group of rescuers trekking up the mountain. They were asking us if we’d seen a yellow car in the chasm below. I started rattling off the types of cars we’d seen impossibly perched in the mud – but not a yellow one.