Japan marks quake and tsunami anniversary


Emperor Akihito: "We shall never forget those who gave their lives in rescue missions"

Japan is marking the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami which struck the north-eastern coast, leaving 20,000 dead or missing.

The magnitude 9.0 quake, Japan's most powerful since records began, also triggered a serious nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Thousands of people were evacuated as radiation leaked from the plant.

There were memorial services, and a minute's silence was observed at the moment the quake hit, 14:46 local time.

The main memorial ceremony was held at Tokyo's National Theatre, attended by Japan's Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

From early morning they came - the survivors clutching bunches of flowers to lay on the foundations of what were once family homes.

Pausing to remember, they wandered around a network of roads, all that remains of the port area of Kesennuma after the tsunami swept through.

Next to a huge fishing trawler dumped 800m inland, people lit incense sticks and prayed at a makeshift shrine. Then, at the precise moment the earthquake hit one year ago, the warning sirens sounded again, echoing off the hills and people stopped to observe a minute's silence.

Much of the wreckage along the coast has been gathered into huge piles, but rebuilding has barely begun.

"We shall not let our memory of the disasters fade," the 78-year-old emperor said in a brief televised address.

"I hope all the people will keep the victims in their hearts."

Prime Minister Noda pledged to rebuild so that Japan could be reborn "as an even better place".

Much of Japan came to a standstill as the minute of silence was observed.

Warning sirens sounded across the north-east of the country at the precise time the quake struck, 14:46 local time (05:46 GMT). Bells and prayers also reverberated across the country.

Nuclear fears

The earthquake struck about 400km (250 miles) north-east of Tokyo on 11 March 2011.

Shortly after the quake, an immense surge of water enveloped the north-eastern coast as a tsunami swept cars, ships, and buildings away, crushing coastal communities.

Miyagi prefecture debris chief Sasade Haruyasu shows his '100 years of waste'

The twin natural disasters claimed more than 15,800 lives, and more than 3,000 people remain unaccounted for.

In the Fukushima prefecture, where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is located, the impact of the disaster was particularly acute.

Start Quote

Even though one year has passed, nothing has really changed”

End Quote Tatsuya Suzuki Survivor

Radiation leaked from the plant after a series of fires and explosions damaged four of the plant's six reactor buildings, with serious failures in the plant's cooling system being at the heart of the problem.

A 20 km (12.5 mile) exclusion zone around the plant was put in place making tens of thousands of people homeless. Radiation means the area around remains uninhabitable.

The plant is in cold shutdown now and Mr Noda has promised that over the decades to come it will be decommissioned. He has also pledged to rebuild the devastated towns along the coast.

Slow recovery?

But correspondents say that Japan is still dealing with the economic and political fallout of the disaster. Japan's prime minister at the time of the disaster, Naoto Kan, resigned months later.

Survivor Mika Hashikai mourns her father, killed in the tsunami in Rikuzentakata (photo: 11 March 2012) A survivor mourns her father in Rikuzentakata

He had been criticised for failing to show leadership during the nuclear crisis after the quake. The nuclear crisis also revealed serious flaws in the nuclear industry's regulatory systems and safety standards.

Although much of the debris has been cleared, survivors from the devastated north-east have complained about slow recovery efforts.

The Japanese authorities believe the reconstruction will cost more than 23 trillion yen (£181bn) over a decade.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I have some very close friends from Japan, and what has impressed me so much is how the people there have come together and with the support of foreign aid moved on from such a disaster in such a professional and capable way, The Japanese Government have been incredible during and after the issue and found the best and most efficient resolutions in times of terrible crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I am still amazed at the Japanese stoicism and survival spirit of this disaster 1 year on. From my time living in Japan, including the time of this tragic day, I have always felt that they have a very acceptable grace about them in taking whatever mother nature throws at them. Prayers to Tohoku and especially those families who have not had closure of having their loved ones bodies returned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I still remember the day so clearly, i had the day off and was glued to the screen. The japanese people were amazing in the aftermath, so controlled, humble and caring for one another. I remember how millions of pounds worth in Yen,found amongst the rubble were returned to the police. The west could learn a lot about self control from them. My thoughts go to the family´s of those who perished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I passed through Kobe a few months after the earthquake there had devastated the town in '95. There was no sign of any damage remaining whatsoever. The Japanese are amazing at construction, and the British construction industry could really learn something from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I can't forget my shock when I knew the number of missing people for the first time one year ago. Before I came to Brighton, England last September to study English, I had volunteered several times in the disaster area to remove debris from fields and houses of the victims. I wanted to do something for them. I will go back to Japan in June. I'd like to
    volunteer again for its recovery.


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