The scale of the task is evident in Watanoma district near Ishinomaki's harbor. One recent cloudy morning, platoons of soldiers wearing elbow-length blue rubber gloves and armed with shovels, rakes, picks, and axes were clearing the neighborhood house by house, removing the muck and debris that clogged them.
They worked carefully – they are still finding bodies concealed under the debris – neatly piling any intact furniture or bric-a-brac they found. But most of the wreckage that they carted out in wheelbarrows was loaded onto trucks.
On one street a bulldozer razed a ruined home, heaping its broken beams and walls onto another truck.
There are some 28,000 houses in Ishinomaki so badly damaged that they will have to be knocked down, according to the mayor, Hiroshi Kameyama.
A little way out of the city, a stretch of land behind a high school has been converted into a waste collection center. For 200 yards along its length runs a 15-foot-high ridge of timber, higgledy-piggledy. Nearby, neatly stacked traditional tatami mats, a staple of most homes here, are arranged in piles.
One end of the dump is taken up by a huge expanse of mangled electrical appliances. At the other end stands a mountain of random garbage, ranging from small trees to plastic bags; halfway up is perched a bulldozer, shifting the loads that a procession of trucks, pickups, vans, and other vehicles deposit at the mountain's foot.