This is the first of a four-part series looking at the lasting impact of the March 11, 2011, disasters.

It was a fateful moment. At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake hit eastern Japan, impacting the 24,000-plus residents of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.

Minutes later, tsunami more than 10 meters high — at one location 17.6 meters — hit the coastal town, devastating the city's entire low-lying downtown area.