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Tsunami videos made Japan's disaster a global event

Teen taped tsunami, then saved stranger

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    Teen taped tsunami, then saved stranger

Teen taped tsunami, then saved stranger 02:28

Story highlights

  • Mao Takahashi recorded moment tsunami struck his home town of Ishinomaki
  • Teenager's video watched over two million times on YouTube
  • Amount of footage of last year's disaster made it more comprehensible for people across the world

A blue car rushes by in the raging brown water. Moments later a whole family house is carried down the center of the flooded street before an even more frightening sight: a young man trapped in the rising water clinging to a telephone wire.

"Gambatte kudasai!" screams out a young voice to the stranded victim, which means "stay strong" in Japanese.

That voice belongs to 16 year old Mao Takahashi, who used his camera to record the moment the tsunami struck his neighborhood in Ishinomaki, Japan, on March 11, 2011.

Send in your memories of Japan's tsunami

It is riveting to watch and has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube.

When asked if he felt as if he was recording history for a global audience, Takahashi said he did not think about what he was doing or that he might be recording a piece of history.

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2011: Running from tsunami's destruction

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"I was simply panicking," he explained.

In Japan every person in the country has at least one mobile phone and when the tsunami tore across northern Japan, thousands like Takahashi pulled out a device from their pockets and started filming, making last year's disaster one of the most recorded in history.

"Because you had all of this very real footage, it made the incident much more real in people's minds. They no longer have to imagine what a tsunami is, they saw it live," said Tokyo-based technology consultant Steve Nagata.

Nagata points out that Japan is recognizable to many people, even if they haven't visited the country. That familiarity helped people around the world connect to the disaster.

The personal nature of the video also brought the disaster home to people around the world and compelled nations and individuals to engage and want to help, said Nagata.

"To be able to do this in near real time and to do it to audiences across the globe is unprecedented in how much power it's giving to individuals," Nagata said.

In Takahashi's case, what his video doesn't show when he stopped recording is the most important part of his story.

Takahashi took off his clothes, fearing their weight when they got wet and waded into the frigid waters, which had subsided as the tsunami retreated. He then grabbed the young man clinging to the telephone wire -- who was just a few years older than himself -- and carried him back into his house.

He doesn't know what happened to the young man, other than he survived.

Takahashi and his family are now living in temporary housing and their future is still uncertain; he doesn't know where they will finally end up. He still likes to look at the video that's still on his camera, even though it shows the fury of that traumatizing day.

"It has a happy ending for me," he said.

      Rebuilding Japan

    • This picture taken by a Miyako City official on March 11, 2011 and released on March 18, 2011 shows a tsunami breeching an embankment and flowing into the city of Miyako in Iwate prefecture shortly after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the region of northern Japan. The official number of dead and missing after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that flattened Japan's northeast coast a week ago has topped 16,600, with 6,405 confirmed dead, it was announced on March 18, 2011. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

      Did events on March 11, 2011 affect your life? Share before and after photos of your area, or grab a video camera and let us know what life is like today.
    • An aerial view shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in the Japanese town of Futaba, Fukushima prefecture on March 12, 2011. Japan scrambled to prevent nuclear accidents at two atomic plants where reactor cooling systems failed after a massive earthquake, as it evacuated tens of thousands of residents. Tokyo Electric Power, which runs the plants, said it had released some radioactive vapour into the atmosphere at one plant to relieve building reactor pressure, but said the move posed no health risks. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

      A Fukushima Prefecture evacuee made a brief visit to his radiation-contaminated home, walked to his shuttered shop, and then hanged himself.
    • Tourism in Japan has been badly hit by the quake.

      See how areas hit by the tsunami looked just after the disaster and how they look today.
    • The morning sun shines on the Kamaishi Bay while a huge buddha statue of 'Kamaishi Kannon' stands on the top of the mountain at the tsunami-devastated city of Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture on May 12, 2011.

      Scientist Ken Buesseler looks at what's known -- and not known -- about the largest accidental release of radioactivity into the ocean.
    • A TEPCO worker explains the situation at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, February 28, 2012.

      Twisted metal beams still jut from the top of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi stricken reactors, almost one year after a massive tsunami triggered nuclear meltdown.