March 11th, 2011
02:36 PM ET

Earthquake and Tsunami Hit Japan: Watching the Disaster Unfold

[cnn-video url="http://cnn.com/video/?/video/world/2011/03/11/sot.tsunami.hit.japan.cnn"%5D

There are some days in a TV newsroom you’ll never forget. Here in Hong Kong, I’d had an eye across the morning’s events as I sat at home, fully expecting further dramatic developments in Libya. Only upon my arrival in the office did I hear of the Japanese quake. 

Certain news stories are best told with astonishing pictures and minimal words. As we started to see ground-level shots of cars and boats being swept by a torrent of water, we sensed this was one such occasion. But when aerial footage from Miyagi Prefecture began to stream live, the entire newsroom was left in unusual conflict: trying to put this event across to millions of viewers, while unable to tear our eyes away from what we were watching. 

As the pictures kept coming (homes being ripped from their foundations, cars attempting in vain to evade the rushing wave, an oil refinery enveloped in smoke and fire), the realization dawned on us that it could take weeks before we knew the extent of the damage, both human and physical.

And then there was the other development: tsunami waves heading out into the ocean, with the entire Pacific Rim apparently at risk. How powerful would the waves be when they hit distant shores? Were we watching a premature echo of events in 2004? 

As we went to air, Hawaii was braced for a tsunami. Of several individuals we spoke to in the archipelago, one stood out. Ryan McGinnis told us he was just meters from the shore, as waves clearly began to build – and water lapped onto the streets. As we left him at the end of the hour, we could only wonder if we were watching the next chapter of a devastating story being written. 

And as we return to our desks (some of us over the weekend, some on Monday), we will truly begin to reflect on the scale of what could become the story of the year.

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