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Japanese pause to recall 'terrible' quake, tsunami

By Wang Xu in Tokyo | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-12 09:54
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A woman who lost her husband in the 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan prays at his grave in Miyako, Iwate prefecture, on Monday, the eighth anniversary of the disaster. [Photo/KYODO NEWS]

As grieving families across Japan gathered on Monday to mark the eighth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast coast and resulted in the world's second-worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl, 15-year-old Toshiki Suzuki was among them.

Together with the crowd in Ginza, Tokyo, one of the world's high-fashion centers, Suzuki pressed his hands firmly together and bowed his head for a moment of silence as a bell rang at 2:46 pm - the moment the offshore earthquake struck Japan on March 11, 2011, setting off a massive tsunami.

Suzuki, who was living in Wakabayashi, Sendai in Miyagi prefecture at the time the earthquake occurred, does not remember his thoughts as he watched the first floor of his family house become flooded.

But Suzuki does remember the sound of the tsunami warning siren and having to climb onto his grandfather's back on the way to the shelter, since he could not walk well in the mud.

"The disaster was terrible," Suzuki said. "But I think I am lucky to be here as a survivor."

Japan's National Police Agency said that as of Friday, 15,897 people had been confirmed dead due to the disaster, with 2,533 others still missing.

That takes the number of people who died because of the disaster to at least 22,131, including those who succumbed to health issues after evacuation, the police said.

Meanwhile, a survey published by the nation's reconstruction agency in February showed that more than 51,000 people are still living elsewhere across the country as evacuees, and seven cities in Fukushima prefecture still have no-entry zones because of the nuclear leak.

Not far from Ginza, at the National Theatre of Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, lawmakers and some of those who lost loved ones in the disaster held a national-commemoration ceremony.

"We can't help but feel sorrow when we think about the suffering of those who lost beloved family members, relatives and friends," Abe was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying. "We will provide unbreaking support (for evacuees) to rebuild their lives and accelerate the reconstruction work."

However, a 38-year-old woman who wanted to be identified only as Akiko said the government's efforts have not been sufficient.

"The government stopped my housing subsidy last year, and I am having a hard time to fight for a living with my children in Tokyo," Akiko said.

Japan has urged people who fled the Fukushima nuclear disaster to return home after a decontamination program that involved removing radioactive topsoil and cleaning affected areas. However, a February poll conducted by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun found that 60 percent of Fukushima residents still felt anxious about radiation.

"The government is not convincing enough in proving the area is safe," Akiko said, "I am still worried but the government is not helping us."

The tsunami triggered the melt-down of three reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the release of radioactive material. Decommissioning the plant could take up to 40 years and cost at least $192 billion.

Just last month, Tokyo Electric Power Co, the plant operator, made the first contact with the melted fuel using a remote probe.

TEPCO said it hopes to start removing debris from the reactors as early as 2021.

Meanwhile, space is running out for storage of the coolant water, which is contaminated after being poured over the debris.

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