Gradually the rescue workers’ discoveries are confirming the worst fears. Official estimates of the number of victims is being revised upwards.
The police in Miyagi say 10,000 are feared dead after tsunami triggered by Friday’s earthquake.
That is the number unaccounted for in one port alone, at Minamisanriku, where half the town’s population have given no sign of life.
On Sunday more than 200 bodies have been found in Miyagi prefecture.
For the military – whose numbers are being doubled to 100,000 – just contemplating the task ahead seems daunting.
“It’s hard to even imagine the scale of it,” said a rescue worker. “I came to Miyagi during the last earthquake as well to help, but once there is water involved, it becomes a whole different story. It’s hard to think about.”
Army helicopters are rescuing people from rooftops.
Hundreds of thousands of others are going to need a massive relief effort.
Nationwide 300,000 have left their homes or been evacuated. Thousands spent a freezing night huddled in blankets in emergency shelters.
Five and a half million are without electricity. Queues have been reported outside shops and deliveries have inevitably been disrupted.
Aftershocks and damaged infrastructure are hampering the rescue effort.