The height of the waves was 10 meters -- about 5 stories high, there wouldn't be much left standing, and truthfully I am not surprised of the number missing.
It's hard to tell yet whether the loss of life may reach the levels of the Great Tsunami of 2004, and I pray that it does not, given the effects of a close-in epicenter (closer to the shoreline than the Sumatra earthquake) and the fact that relatively few coastal residents would have had time to flee far enough inland or high enough to avoid the wave crests.
The one planning weakness I'm sensing in all of the coverage is a better understanding of the effects of a combined great earthquake and tsunami, including the impact on nuclear energy facilities. You can be sure that is going to get a lot of attention worldwide, and that future facilities are going to need better fail safe mechanisms to account for that risk.
I lived less than 2 hours from Three Mile Island when that melt-down occurred (in the DC suburbs, and I had my car packed and ready to flee southward until the danger passed at that time.
I'm concerned that there still could be aftershocks in the 8.0 range that could trigger another tsunami, even though the likelihood of another 8.9 quake is highly remote.
Edited to respond to Joab:
There is a tsunami warning system and it worked as it was supposed to. The issue here is that there wasn't a sufficient response system in place, especially when the epicenter was so close to shore, and the amount of time was so brief (10-15 minutes) That wavefront is moving at speeds of 400 to 500 mph and has a lot of energy connected to it. While the time wasn't sufficient for northeastern Japan, it minimized the loss of life elsewhere in the Pacific Rim (none in Hawaii, one fool in California who should have known better, and I haven't read of any others anywhere else.)
Within a few more years, there will be a tsunami warning system in place in the Atlantic Ocean basin, including the Caribbean Sea, in addition to the Indian and Pacific basins.