Japan Tsunami – With a moment of silence, prayers and anti-nuclear rallies, Japan marked on Sunday one year since an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands and set off a radiation crisis that shattered public trust in atomic power and the nation’s leaders.
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake unleashed a wall of water that hit Japan’s northeast coast, killing nearly 16,000 and leaving nearly 3,300 unaccounted for. The country is still grappling with the human, economic and political costs.
In the port town of Ofunato, hundreds of black-clad residents gathered to lay white chrysanthemums in memory of the town’s 420 dead and missing.
“We can’t just stay sad. Our mission is to face reality and move forward step by step,” said Kosei Chiba, 46, who lost his mother and wife in the disaster.
“But the damage the town suffered was too big and our psychological scars are too deep. We need a long time to rebuild.”
The country observed a minute of silence at 2:46 p.m. (0546 GMT), the time the quake struck.
Residents of Ofunato gathered before a makeshift altar with a calm, sun-flecked sea behind them. Ofunato paused again 33 minutes later — the time when a year ago a 23-metre (75-foot) tsunami engulfed the town of 41,000.
Just a kilometer (half a mile) from Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (Tepco) wrecked Fukushima plant, where reactor meltdowns triggered the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, residents of the abandoned town of Okuma were allowed back for just a few hours to honor the dead.
“It was a wonderful place. If it wasn’t for all that has happened, I’d be able to come back. But thanks to Tepco, I wasn’t even able to search for the bodies of my relatives,” said Tomoe Kimura, 93, who lost four members of her family in the tsunami, two of whom were never found.
Authorities have imposed a 20-km (12 mile) no-go zone around the plant and residents may never be allowed back.
“My home is in Namie town, so we can’t go home,” said Katsuko Ishii, who had to flee from the exclusion zone.
“There are really no words for it,” said Ishii, attending a memorial service with her 3-year-old daughter in Iwaki City, Fukushima prefecture.
Along the northeast coast, police and coastguard officers, urged on by families of the missing, continue their dogged search for remains despite diminishing chances of finding any.