Until a week ago, a tsunami was one of the most mysterious of natural events, its devastating power usually evident only in the aftermath. Yet from the first moments the Earth started to shudder on March 11, Japan’s tsunami was one of the most recorded disasters ever to be captured on film, lending a visual power to story-telling unmatched since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago.
Quake footage was available almost instantly: Office workers running outside as building chunks slam to the ground; skyscrapers swaying like evergreens in a windstorm; pictures falling off walls; store stock spilling to the floor. One man kept recording as his living room seemed to fall apart around him. His camera caught his shaky steps as he finally rushed outside.
But as dramatic as the earthquake images were, the tsunami video — some of it live — was breathtaking. A handful of tourists captured the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, but there was much less variety and inferior film quality. Technology — particularly cell-phone cameras — was not what it has become today.