TODAY   |  March 13, 2011

With city in ruins, survivors struggle to cope

NBC’s Ian Williams describes the widespread devastation that has stunned Sendai, the closest major city to the epicenter.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, co-host (Tokyo): We want to turn now to the ground zero of this disaster, it's the city of Sendai . This is where we saw some of those pictures of the huge waves. These are areas where people are cut off. NBC 's Ian Williams has made his way there and has this report for us.

IAN WILLIAMS reporting: It remains difficult to reach the worst affected areas, so we traveled as far north as the helicopter could take us. Then a further two-hour drive brought us to Sendai , the closest city to the epicenter of Friday's huge quake and

this: the muddied and shattered remains of homes and vehicles swept away by a tsunami that here reached around two miles inland, destroying just about everything in its path. One of the worst affected areas, this industrial and housing zone around the airport. This is the parking lot of the Sendai flying school, now amid the wrecked cars sits this training aircraft, dumped here by the wave, swept from the hangars over the back there. Soldiers and rescue workers scoured the area on the ground and in the air. The authorities say they found 300 bodies in just one area close to here. We found desperate relatives searching for missing family members, this couple looking for a sister while others struggle to navigate around a neighborhood brutally reshaped by the force of nature.

Unidentified Man:

WILLIAMS: 'The ground's fallen by two feet up there,' this man warned. 'You can't go that way.' There's no power, no water, and what few shops remain open are being swamped. This couple's searching for milk and diapers for their one-year-old daughter.

Unidentified Woman:

WILLIAMS: 'I saw the tsunami coming,' her mother told me. 'I grabbed my baby and fled.' As we filmed, panic struck the neighborhood, emergency vehicles warning through blaring loudspeakers there's a tsunami coming, a tsunami, move to higher ground . We joined that exodus, though thankfully, the surging water didn't return. It was a false alarm. Though that will be little comfort to this battered and traumatized city. Ian Williams , NBC News, Sendai .