TOKYO (AP) – Japan marked Thursday the 10th anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that struck its northeastern region, where the lives of many survivors are still on hold.
With bouquets of flowers, many walked to the coast or visited graves to pray for family and friends washed away by the tsunami. Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga were among those who observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m., the moment the shaking started, at a monument in Tokyo.
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011 was one of the largest on record, triggering a massive tsunami that swept inland, destroying villages and causing landslides at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. More than 18,000 people died, most in the tsunami, and nearly half a million people were displaced.
In addition, the government recognized another 3,700 people, mostly from Fukushima, who died from causes related to the disaster.
Ten years later, more than 40,000 people are still unable to return to their homes in and around Fukushima, where areas near the destroyed plant are still banned due to radioactive contamination.
“Reconstruction in the disaster-affected areas has advanced significantly, but the recovery of the hearts of the survivors is not progressing as much as we would like,” said Makoto Saito, a teacher at an elementary school in Minamisoma, a city hit by the triple disaster. . where she lost her 5-year-old son Shota in the tsunami.
Saito, who represents the survivors of Fukushima, said in his speech at the ceremony that he fears memories will fade outside the disaster area and that he is committed to continuing to tell the lessons of the disaster and the stories of his son.
Naruhito said “my heart hurts” when he thinks of those who have struggled with difficulties, drastic changes in their lives, lost loved ones, jobs and communities. He especially highlighted the suffering of many Fukushima residents who are unable to return.
“I also consider it important to heal emotional scars and ensure the mental and physical health of those affected, including the elderly and children,” he said. He stressed that it is important that people support them and help them rebuild their lives “without leaving a single soul behind in this difficult situation.”
The rebuilding of roads, train lines and other key infrastructure and housing has mostly been completed at a cost of more than 30 trillion yen ($ 280 billion), but a large amount of empty land remains empty in coastal cities further north in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, where existing population losses were accelerated by the disaster.
In the town of Otsuchi in Iwate prefecture, where the tsunami destroyed the city hall and killed about 40 employees, families dressed in dark suits gathered on an empty lot where the building used to be. In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, dozens of residents prayed at a cenotaph with the names of more than 3,000 victims.
No deaths have been directly confirmed from radiation, but Fukushima has lagged behind in recovery efforts, with 2.4% of the land classified as no-go zones near the nuclear plant. The decommissioning of molten reactors is an unprecedented challenge, and some question after 10 years of work whether it can be done at all.
Thursday’s ceremony is the last national commemoration of the 2011 disaster organized by the government. It comes just two weeks before the Olympic torch race starts from Fukushima for the delayed Tokyo Summer Games in July.
Suga has said that the Olympics will show Japan’s recovery from the disaster and will be a test of human victory over the coronavirus pandemic. Some disaster survivors, however, say their work is still half done.
“Now we are in a stage to conclude the reconstruction of the disaster,” Suga said at the memorial ceremony. He acknowledged that some people are still in difficulty as the pandemic adds to their difficulties and pledged to provide support to meet individual needs in rebuilding their environment, livelihoods and businesses.
The rest of the country also marked Awareness Day for Disaster Prevention. In Kyoto, western Japan, authorities conducted emergency drills.
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