10 powerful images of Japan earthquake aftermath

Images of Japan captured after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami last week tell a compelling story of devastation and resilience. Below is a selection of images, courtesy of The Associated Press, Getty Images and Reuters, that dramatically illustrate events there.

The towering waves capture the raw power and fury of nature when juxtaposed against the inadequate ingenuity of human beings:

Waves of tsunami hit residences after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011. The largest earthquake in Japan's recorded history slammed the eastern coast Friday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

The eerily placid placement of the airplanes amidst the vehicles and debris offer a striking sense of calm after the tsunami:

Light planes and vehicles sit among the debris after they were swept by a tsumani that struck Sendai airport in northern Japan on Friday March 11, 2022. A magnitude 8.9 earthquake slammed Japan's eastern coast Friday, unleashing a 13-foot (4-meter) tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

The graphic pattern and vivid colors of the cargo containers represent a striking state of order in the aftermath of one of the world's most chaotic natural disasters:

Cargo containers are strewn about in Sendai, northern Japan, Saturday, March 12, 2011. Japan launched a massive military rescue operation Saturday after a giant, earthquake-fed tsunami killed hundreds of people and turned the northeastern coast into a swampy wasteland, while authorities braced for a possible meltdown at a nuclear reactor. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

The mountain of rubble -- both symbolic and literal -- creates a valley and a visual escape for the survivors to cross:

People walk through the rubble in Rikuzentakakata, Iwate Prefecture, Sunday March 13, 2011, two days after a powerful earthquake-triggered tsunami. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

This picture speaks of the hope, courage and urgency of the moment, captured in a single image of a young child, protected by her fluffy pink snuggly and her father:

Upon hearing another tsunami warning, a father tries to flee for safety with his just reunited four-month-old baby girl who was spotted by Japan's Self-Defense Force member in the rubble of tsunami-torn Ishinomaki Monday, March 14, 2011, three days after a powerful earthquake-triggered tsunami hit northeast Japan. (AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun, Hiroto Sekiguchi)

The detailed expressions in this photograph document the loss and deep tragedy when all you have is what you can carry out of the wake of destruction. The yellow poles -- which are used to probe like a needle in a haystack -- are a striking reminder of the search and rescue mission ahead:

Residents make their way through a devastated area in Sendai, northern Japan Saturday, March 12, 2011 after Friday's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo/Asahi Shimbun)

This picture is one of the images that reminds me most of Hurricane Katrina aftermath photos. The layering captures an escape from a world of devastation. The rescuer's intensity is contrasted by the survivor's relief:

A stranded elderly woman is carried on the back of a Japanese soldier after being rescued from a residence at Kesennuma, northeastern Japan, on Saturday March 12, 2011, one day after a giant earthquake and tsunami struck the country's northeastern coast. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

This picture reminds me of the Nick Ut photo from Vietnam of young people fleeing a village bombed with napalm. This group appears to move at a more somber pace, but both groups are leaving a similar backdrop of destruction, one man-made, one natural.

People walk on a muddy road as they evacuate to a shelter in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture on March 12, 2011. More than 1,000 people were feared dead and authorities warned a meltdown may be under way at a nuclear plant after a monster tsunami devastated a swathe of northeast Japan. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The repeating patterns of the helmets and the masks in the photo below are a startling reminder of the imminent dangers and loss of life. And yet, there's this gentleness and respect in the white gloves and in the expression on the faces of the two rescuers in front. The white elements at the top and the bottom of the photo frame it in purity:

Police officers carry the body of a victim in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan, Monday, March 14, 2011, three days after northeastern coastal towns were devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

This picture centers around a man and child facing the enormity of the disaster. Their presence shows the profound challenge ahead for generations who will rebuild. You can't see the horizon, but you believe it's there:

A man and child look out over destroyed homes after a tsunami and earthquake in Sendai, northeastern Japan March 12, 2011. Japan confronted devastation along its northeastern coast on Saturday, with fires raging and parts of some cities under water after a massive earthquake and tsunami that likely killed at least 1,000 people. (REUTERS/Kyodo)

Some of these photos, and additional ones, appear in this photoessay from "Dateline":

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  • Kenneth Irby

    Kenny founded Poynter's photojournalism program in 1995. He teaches in seminars and consults in areas of photojournalism, leadership, ethics and diversity.


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