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Iwaki City: Nightmare in Japan

The earth shook for more than two minutes. Buildings cracked and skyscrapers swayed. Then the tsunami swept in.

It was the most powerful earthquake Japan had suffered in a long and deadly seismic history. The ocean floor heaved, unleashing walls of water on the country's Pacific edge. Floods washed away neighborhoods, and fires raged in cities like Iwaki. Broad swaths of coastline were destroyed.

There is a reason, as NEWSWEEK Japan editor Takashi Yokota said in the quake's aftermath, that the word "tsunami" is Japanese. The island nation sits near four tectonic plates and sees more seismic activity than any other country in the world. And though Japan takes pride in being ready for the worst--with tremor-resistant buildings and state-of-the-art warning systems--it seemed nothing could have prepared the country for the sheer force of the 8.9-magnitude quake.

Tokyo: Government Shakeup

As the ground rumbled and chandeliers swayed, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan was in Tokyo, sitting in Parliament. The prime minister braced himself in his chair until the quake had ceased, while others ducked under nearby tables.

Kan later issued a public statement, urging calm and vowing that the government would take swift action. Elsewhere in Tokyo, millions were left without power. A transit shutdown stranded hundreds of thousands; many slept in their offices.

Sendai: When Buildings Crumble

A ceiling turned to dust, raining down on shoppers in a bookstore in Sendai, the city closest to the quake's epicenter and the one hardest hit. …