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Rikuzen-Takata was once a picturesque fishing town, a popular if offbeat stop on the tourist trail boasting a 900-year-old festival of floats and a coastline bathed in the azure-blue Pacific waters. Today it exists only in name. The muddy deluge of 11 March has torn the town from its roots, leaving a gaping wound of smashed cars, pulverised wooden houses and twisted metal girders. Car navigation systems still direct visitors to the post office and the local government building, which are no longer there.

Mayor Futoshi Toba surveys the ruins from…

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