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Japan marks 10th anniversary of quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima

More than 18,000 people died and nearly half a million were displaced.

JAPAN MARKED THE 10th anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit its northeastern region, where many survivors’ lives are still on hold.

Carrying bouquets, many walked to the coast or visited graves to pray for relatives and friends washed away by the tsunami.

Emperor Naruhito and prime minister Yoshihide Suga were among those observing a moment of silence at 2:46pm, the minute the shaking started, at a memorial in Tokyo.

The magnitude 9.0 quake that struck on March 11 2011, was one of the biggest on record and set off a massive tsunami that swept far inland, destroying towns and causing meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

More than 18,000 people died, mostly in the tsunami, and nearly half a million people were displaced.

Additionally, the government recognised about 3,700 others, majority of them from Fukushima, who died of causes linked to the disaster.

Ten years later, more than 40,000 people are still unable to return home in and around Fukushima, where areas near the wrecked plant are still off-limits due to radioactive contamination.

“Reconstruction in disaster-hit areas has moved forward significantly, but recovery of the survivors’ hearts is not making as much progress as we wish,” said Makoto Saito, a teacher at an elementary school in Minamisoma, a town hit by the triple disaster where he lost his five-year-old son Shota in the tsunami.

Mr Saito, representing Fukushima survivors, said in his speech at the ceremony that he is afraid memories are fading outside the disaster zone and he is committed to keep telling the lessons from the disaster and stories of his son.

Naruhito said “my heart aches” when he thinks of those who have struggled with hardships, drastic changes to their lives, lost their loved ones, jobs and communities.

He especially noted the suffering of many Fukushima residents who cannot go back.

“I also consider it important to heal emotional scars and watch over the mental and physical health of those afflicted, including the elderly and children,” he said.

He stressed that it’s important for people to stand by them and help reconstruct their lives “without leaving even a single soul behind in this difficult situation”.

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