Re­mem­ber­ing the hor­rific quake, tsunami

19,000 died one year ago

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY MIKI TODA AND

RIKUZEN­TAKATA, JA­PAN | Peo­ple across Ja­pan prayed and stood in si­lence Sun­day to re­mem­ber the mas­sive earth­quake and tsunami that struck the na­tion one year ago, killing 19,000 peo­ple and un­leash­ing the world’s worst nu­clear cri­sis in a quar­ter cen­tury.

In the dev­as­tated north­east­ern coastal town of Rikuzen­takata, a siren sounded at 2:46 p.m. — the ex­act time the mag­ni­tude-9.0 quake struck on March 11, 2011 — and a Bud­dhist priest in a pur­ple robe rang a huge bell at a dam­aged tem­ple over­look­ing a bar­ren area where houses once stood.

At the same time in the town of Ona­gawa, peo­ple fac­ing the sea pressed their hands to­gether in silent prayer.

Mean­while, at a me­mo­rial ser­vice in Tokyo’s Na­tional The­ater, 78-year-old Em­peror Ak­i­hito, Em­press Michiko and Prime Min­is­ter Yoshi­hiko Noda stood in si­lence with hun­dreds of other peo­ple dressed in black.

Even in Tokyo’s busy shop­ping dis­trict of Shibuya, pedes­tri­ans briefly stopped and fell silent be­fore car­ry­ing on.

Mr. Noda re­called in a speech that the Ja­panese peo­ple have over­come dis­as­ters and dif­fi­cul­ties many times in the past, and pledged to re­build the na­tion and the area around the tsunamistricken Fukushima nu­clear plant so that the coun­try will be “re­born as an even bet­ter place.”

“Our pre­de­ces­sors who brought pros­per­ity to Ja­pan have re­peat­edly risen up from crises, ev­ery time be­com­ing stronger,” Mr. Noda said. “We will stand by the peo­ple from the dis­as­ter­hit ar­eas and join hands to achieve the his­toric task of re­build­ing.”

The earth­quake was the strong­est recorded in Ja­pan’s his­tory, and set off a tsunami that swelled to more than 65 feet in some spots along the north­east­ern coast, de­stroy­ing tens of thou­sands of homes and bring­ing wide­spread destruc­tion.

The tsunami also knocked out the vi­tal cool­ing sys­tems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nu­clear power plant, caus­ing melt­downs at three re­ac­tors and spew­ing ra­di­a­tion into the air.

Some 100,000 res­i­dents who were forced to flee re­main in tem­po­rary hous­ing or with rel­a­tives, and a 12-mile area around the plant is still off-lim­its.

The em­peror voiced con­cern about the dif­fi­cul­ties of de­con­tam­i­nat­ing the land around the plant.

“In or­der to make the area in­hab­it­able again, we face the dif­fi­cult prob­lem of re­mov­ing ra­di­a­tion,” he said in a brief ad­dress. “We shall not let our mem­ory of the dis­as­ters fade, pay at­ten­tion to dis­as­ter preven­tion and con­tinue our ef­fort to make this land an even safer place to live.”

All told, some 325,000 peo­ple ren­dered home­less or evac­u­ated are still in tem­po­rary hous­ing. While much of the de­bris along the tsunami-rav­aged coast has been gath­ered into mas­sive piles, very lit­tle re­build­ing has be­gun.

Be­yond the mas­sive cleanup, many towns are still fi­nal­iz­ing re­con­struc­tion plans, some of which in­volve mov­ing res­i­den­tial ar­eas to higher, safer ground — am­bi­tious, costly projects.

Bu­reau­cratic de­lays in co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and lo­cal of­fi­cials have also slowed re­build­ing ef­forts.

Anti-nu­clear pro­test­ers at a down­town Tokyo park also held a mo­ment of si­lence Sun­day be­fore march­ing to­ward the head­quar­ters of Tokyo Elec­tric Power Co., the op­er­a­tor of the Fukushima nu­clear power plant. Public op­po­si­tion to nu­clear power has grown in the wake of the dis­as­ter, the worst since Ch­er­nobyl in 1986.


An open area in front of a tem­po­rary shop­ping com­plex in the dev­as­tated city of Ke­sen­numa, Ja­pan, serves as the site of a can­dlelit me­mo­rial to those killed in the earth­quake and tsunami on March, 11, 2011.

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