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One year on: Thousands still on Japanese tsunami missing lists

Thousands of people remain missing following the Japanese tsunami and earthquake in March 2011. A look at the missing lists gives a glimpse into the lives the catastrophic event affected.

Men offer prayers in front of what's left of the disaster control center in the area devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami,
Men offer prayers in front of what's left of the disaster control center in the area devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami,
Image: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

AS THE ONE-YEAR anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami arrives, thousands of people remain on the missing list.

The country has undergone a massive clean-up effort, with workers spending the past year diligently searching for and recovering bodies while removing the tons of debris that was strewn onto previously unspoilt landscapes.

They are even sorting the recyclable and non-recyclable rubble, a sign of their measured approach to this difficult task.

Last year, 88,000 people were reported missing after the tsunami, and thousands of people still remain on the missing list. A DNA database was set up last year to help identify bodies, which were recovered from land and sea.

A Google person finder, which was set up a year ago to help people find each other, has been shut down. But the missing lists remain on the ICRC site. A trawl through them gives a snapshot of the breadth of ages and nationalities of people still missing.

The missing lists make for stark reading. Brothers search for siblings, cousins search for relations.

People can post information on who they are looking for – or if they want to let people know they are alive. The green ‘alive’ buttons are far outweighed by the stark yellow ‘missing’ buttons.

There are Japanese, Nepalese, Peruvian, Chinese, Brazilian, German, and Filipino people, to name but some of the nationalities featured. All missing, all with family searching for them. They are in their 20s, 30s, 80s. The earthquake and tsunami tried to swallow up everything in its path, and most of the time it was able to.

Recent reports show that families are not giving up on their loved ones – in Ishinomaki, one grieving mother told the Toronto Star that she would continue digging for her daughter’s remains until they are found.

Her nickname, given to her by other villagers, is Akiramena. It means ‘the one who never gives up’.

Read: In pictures: Google’s before and after images of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami>

More: Full coverage and analysis one year after the Japanese tsunami>

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