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Japan earthquake, tsunami captured in astonishing video; Meet the man who survived filming it

February 27, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
We are approaching the anniversary of one of the most incredible disasters in modern history, an earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in a way we have never seen before.

When disaster struck March 11, 2011, for the first time in history, the world watched a tragedy of this magnitude unfold on live television. From our living rooms, we witnessed the unbelievable power of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami that followed. But what we saw was nothing compared to the horror of being there.

See raw video of the Japan tsunami as the Ofunato seaport is destroyed by waves

One resident there shot video few have seen. Despite the heart-breaking events unfolding right in front of him, he never stopped rolling.

The view from the window of Kenji Saito's former office used to look out on a bustling seaport. It's now a barren wasteland. Saito can't help but still feel the pain and anger.

I met Saito at a building that was once his bakery. We stood there on a cold day in the small fishing town of Ofunato. He walked me through every moment in his video, beginning with the earthquake.

Saito was standing in a room when the earthquake struck. He pulled out his iPhone and started to shoot his video. The ground started shaking the building. Saito began shooting before going through the office building urging people to evacuate. You can see in the video that people are scared and frightened. You see people in doorways, trying to keep their balance during the violent shaking.

See raw video taken in the seaport of Ofunato during the 2011 Japan 9.0 earthquake

Saito began to move quickly. The temblor rattled the building for three solid minutes. Saito said he knew a tsunami was coming.

Once his building was evacuated, he grabbed another camera and ran to a hill just a block away. It was the very hill he ran to when he was 12 years old in 1960, narrowly escaping a tsunami that killed thousands. That same hill has now saved his life twice.

From that hill, he says he stood on the edge of disaster and watched as the killer wave brought in a surge of water that averaged between 25 and 40 feet.

In the beginning of the video, it's uncomfortably calm. Even the tsunami alarm lacks urgency. But then, the water - slowly at first - starts to rise. Seconds later, the water swells quickly. Cars in a parking lot start to wash away, and an inner seawall meant to protect the community from a tsunami crumbles. Then the inevitable begins to reveal itself as a building breaks free and washes down the street (Watch the raw video)

Amid the crackling lumber and steel is the sound of Saito crying over what he is witnessing.

Today, there is very little left: a broken clock that stopped precisely when the tsunami hit; a mangled seawall; a few gutted buildings; and residents who lost loved ones, homes, jobs and their lives.

Dozens of Japan's coastal towns were hit by the tsunami. Many faired far worse even than Ofunato. In Miyako City, the tsunami waves were an astounding 128-feet high. The tsunami traveled across the Pacific Ocean, too. In Chile, 11,000 miles away, the waves were still more than 6-feet high.

In Northern California, one man was killed by the tsunami. He was swept out to sea and his body was found in Oregon.


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