Rikuzen Takata was reported to have been "wiped off the map" by the tsunami following the Tōhoku earthquake. According to the police, every building smaller than three stories high has been completely flooded, with buildings bigger than three stories high being flooded partially, one of the buildings being the city hall, where the water also reached as high as the third floor. The Japan Self-Defense Forces reports between 300 and 400 bodies have been found in the town.
On 14 March, an illustrated BBC report showed a picture of the town, describing it as "almost completely flattened." "It is not clear how many survived." The town's tsunami shelters were designed for a wave of three to four metres in height, but the tsunami of March 2011 created a wave 13 metrers high which inundated the designated safe locations. Local officials estimate that 20% to 40% of the town's population is dead. "Rikuzen Takata effectively no longer exists." Although the town was well prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis and had a 6.5 meter high seawall, it was not enough and more than 80% of 8,000 houses were swept away.
A BBC film dated 20 March reported that the harbour gates of the town failed to shut as the tsunami approached, and that 45 young firemen were swept away while attempting to close them manually. The same film reported that 500 bodies had been recovered in the town, but that 10,000 people were still unaccounted-for out of a population of 26,000. As of 3 April 2011, 1,000 people from the town were confirmed dead with 1,300 still missing. In late May 2011, an Australian reporter interviewed a surviving volunteer firefighter who has said 49 firefighters were killed in Rikuzen Takata by the tsunami, among 284 firefighters known to have died along the affected coast, many while closing the doors in the tsunami barriers along the seashore.
Sixty-eight city officials, about one-third of the city's municipal employees, were killed. The town's mayor, Toba Futoshi, was at his post at the city hall and survived, but his wife was killed at their seaside home. The wave severely damaged the artifact and botanical collection at the city's museum and killed the staff of six people.
Takata Matsubara is a two-kilometer stretch of shoreline that was lined with approximately seventy thousand pines. In 1927 it was selected as one of the 100 Landscapes of Japan (Showa-era) and in 1940 it was designated a Place of Scenic Beauty. After the 2011 tsunami a single, ten-meter, two hundred year-old tree remained from the forest. Due to coastal erosion this is only five meters from the sea and is at threat from increased salinity. The Association for the Protection of Takata Matsubara along with the municipal and prefectural governments are taking measures, including the erection of barriers, to protect the surviving pine.
As of September 2011, there were signs that these measures may be failing, despite all good efforts. Salt water is poisoning the roots. The tree is no longer producing resin, and the needles have turned brown. Buds that had appeared earlier have withered, and the pine cones are discolored.[