Mizu Taniwatabare surveys her small, 30-year-old home. It looks stable, but appearances can be deceiving.

Concrete bricks from her fence lie strewn on the sidewalk. Silt lines mark the walls where the tsunami waves ended their ascent. Furniture and objects pulled out of the home are helter-skelter in her front yard.

The middle-aged Taniwatabare moved to the house in Hitachinaka, a coastal city in Ibaraki prefecture, a year ago. While she purchased other types of insurance, she never bought coverage for earthquakes. 

Mito, Ibaraki, JapanAmber Hildebrandt reports from Mito, Japan.

Now, like many others, she's left to rebuild on her own. Though not in the hardest-hit area further north, Taniwatabare lives in a city on the edge of the devastation. 

In this port town, where containers and cars and fish regularly ship out and in, the evidence of the deadly earthquake and tsunami are all around.

Streets are lined with piles of rubble and discarded housewares neatly piled outside homes, awaiting pickup.

Construction crews began the difficult task of cleaning up, which some expect will take several weeks.

"Taihen desu," one worker says, sighing. The phrase is reference to the difficulties that lie ahead.

This industrialized country is nothing if not a well-oiled machine. But the magnitude 8.9 quake known colloquially as East Japan's Great Quake is the worst disaster to hit the insular country since the Second World War.

Not only are more than 10,000 believed dead — one prefecture says that could be the death toll in its area alone — there has been little respite from a rolling chain of calamities.

Worsening news about damaged nuclear plants have given rise to deep-rooted fears in the only country in the world ever to be attacked with atomic bombs.

A war-era mentality seems to have taken hold. Lineups snake outside gas stations, bakeries and even along hillsides by rain water drainage pipes. Many restaurants and convenience stores are closed. Those with power face rolling outages as the government tries to conserve electricity.

Employees sleep at some workplaces. At one emergency Red Cross centre in a Hitachinaka cultural centre, workers have been there for three days and have no immediate plans to leave.

The centre's chief, Terayama Satoshi, says his home is only an hour away. But that is far enough away and the centre is too busy.

It's unclear when things will return to normal again here. And even when they do, they won't be the same.