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Three years on, Japan is still stunned by disaster
Thousands gather for third anniversary of earthquake and tsunami
Picture: Japan Times
- Japan Times staff
- March 12, 2014
The staggering loss of life and property still overwhelms people who were caught up in the historic magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeast coast three years ago, and for many of the survivors, rebuilding their lives has been a slow process.
The nation on Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake with prayers for more than 18,000 people who died or remain missing, while more evacuees joined lawsuits against the government and Fukushima No. 1 plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Disaster-struck communities continue to struggle, with thousands of evacuees still living in temporary housing, including many forced to leave their homes amid the Fukushima No. 1 meltdown calamity.
Memorial services were held across the country, with a moment of silence observed at 2:46 p.m. when the massive quake occurred and forced the evacuation of about 470,000 people in the ensuing chaotic days.
A government-sponsored memorial ceremony was held in Tokyo, with some 1,200 people attending, including Emperor Akihito, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and about 30 people from Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures who lost family members.
“We’d like to offer again deep condolences to the victims of the quake disaster and their families,” the Emperor said.
“Many disaster-hit victims are still leading a difficult life in the afflicted areas and places where they have evacuated to,” he said. “My heart still aches when I think about the fact that many people have yet to have prospects of returning to their homes.”
As the Emperor pointed out, the agony of survivors lingers.
More than 267,000 evacuees still live in temporary housing and makeshift facilities nationwide.
Some 134,000 of them are from Fukushima Prefecture. Most are believed to be evacuees from contaminated areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, where three reactors suffered core meltdowns and spewed massive amounts of radioactive fallout.
In a speech at the ceremony in Tokyo, Mikiko Asanuma, 50, who represented bereaved families from Iwate Prefecture, said she now keenly feels how precious were the days she spent with her son, who was killed in the disaster.
When she found her son among more than 200 bodies after the tsunami receded, she couldn’t accept the reality, she said.
“We, the survivors, should keep handing down (the memories) of victims and grief and chagrin of their bereaved family members” to future generations “by word of mouth,” Asanuma said.
Yukari Tanaka, 27, from Fukushima Prefecture, said she learned 40 days after the disaster that her missing father had been found dead in their house, which had been swept away by the monster tsunami.
She is among Fukushima people who were ordered to evacuate because of the nuclear crisis.
In her speech, Tanaka said she will never forget the profound frustration she felt because she could not go back to her town to look for her father.
“My father was a very nice person who put his family first over everything,” she said. “We should learn lessons from (the tragedy) that took the precious lives of many people, including my father, and we need to face them for the rest of our lives so that things like this will never happen again.”