TODAY   |  March 14, 2011

Coastal town washed away by tsunami

The residents of Natori had only 30 minutes to flee the rubble of their earthquake-shaken town before massive walls of water swept away their homes. NBC’s Ian Williams tours the wasteland that was once a thriving residential area, home to 10,000 people.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> efforts are continuing on the coast of sendai. the scene is grim but there are stories of incredible survival. ian williams is in yamagatu, japan, with more. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, natalie. rescue teams are only just beginning to reach some of the worst hit areas close to sendai where the tsunami laid waste to entire coastal towns. this is what remains of the coastal district, once home to 10,000 people. here they had half an hour between the quake and the tsunami. 30 desperate minutes to get out.

>> reporter: it's hard to imagine but until friday this wasteland was a busy residential neighborhood. they have no idea how many bodies are buried here. for now the priority is simply to gain access to some of the worst affected areas. clearing a path through the debris. in their wake, rescue teams made slow progress. the dogs trained to detect bodies still alive. there have been none today. some of those who escaped before the wave hit returned today to search for missing relatives. miwa aito was looking for her brother but was overwhelmed by the scenes around her. [ crying ]

>> reporter: the ishikawa family was more lucky. they lost their mother but found her sunday. the family home was one of few left standing. they were able to al advantage at least some belongings, including photo albums .

>> my memory. my grandmother's memory.

>> reporter: nearby a vivid reminder of the power of the tsunami. a school bus wrapped around the wall of the remains of another building. through the smoldering debris we spotted another family who recovered their special possession -- a dog called may who somehow survived the disaster. they found her wandering near the remains of their house. so she was happy to see you?

>> yes, yes, very happy.

>> reporter: for the rescue teams the search went on. the task so big at times they seemed hardly to know where to start. another huge challenge is caring for survivors. officials are facing a critical shortage of blankets, water and medicine, natalie.

>> all right. ian williams in yamagata, japan. stay safe, please. excellent reporting there.