Just six days later – last Thursday, 17 March – the road had been transformed. Before-and-after photographs released by East Nippon Expressway on Wednesday show the astonishing speed with which the road has been repaired.
The fissures have been filled and covered in tarmac. A twisted fence along the verge is now perfectly straight. Only the road signs and trees in the distance remain unchanged.
The road, which was due to reopen to traffic on Wednesday night, is one of several signs that the physical recovery has begun.
The building of temporary housing has started in Kamaishi, a town in Iwate prefecture where thousands of residents were left homeless by the tsunami. More temporary homes will start going up in the nearby towns of Ofunato and Miyako on Friday.The reconstruction effort received another boost on Thursday with the reopening of the Tohoku Expressway, which had been closed to all except emergency vehicles. Better access to the disaster zone means essential supplies are finally getting through to the estimated 250,000 people living in evacuation centres.
"I think the government is doing a pretty good job of getting the roads open," said Chad Huddlestone, a volunteer with the Be One Network in Miyagi prefecture. "They are getting water to the people. Overall, I think they are doing a good job of getting it started. But there's still a lot to do."
Mobile phone firms have set up new transmission stations, and crews of workers are fixing damaged power lines. Japan's post office has sent trucks around the affected area to enable people to withdraw cash from their postal bank accounts.
Some survivors have been able to take a hot bath and change into fresh clothes for the first time in almost a fortnight.