Residents gather to light candles, pray for victims

Ms Kiyoi Shida (left), 80, praying by the coast of Obama town in Fukushima prefecture, on the fifth anniversary of the March 11 earthquake in Japan.
Ms Kiyoi Shida (left), 80, praying by the coast of Obama town in Fukushima prefecture, on the fifth anniversary of the March 11 earthquake in Japan. ST PHOTO: SEOW BEIYI

As the deadly waves of a tsunami approached the coastal town of Obama in Iwaki city five years ago, Ms Kiyoi Shida fled to the second floor of her house.

She clung to a pillar as the water gushed in, sweeping away all her belongings.

There was nothing to keep her warm from the snow as she waited for help. When she finally stepped out of her home to head to the evacuation shelter, the town as she knew it was gone, the 80-year-old told The Straits Times yesterday.

She was the last to reach the shelter, where she was reunited with her son, she said.

Yesterday, she joined about 50 others at a memorial event held by non-profit group Nakoso.

DAY OF REMEMBRANCE

In our daily lives, we gradually forget the dangers of such a disaster. But on this day, we recall the way that people helped each other in difficult times.

MR TAKASHI TACHI, chairman of non-profit group Nakoso, which organised a memorial event.

They chanted and prayed by the beach where the tsunami struck on March 11. Then, at 2.46pm - the moment of the disaster - they observed a minute's silence and lined up to pay their respects.

Iwaki city, about 60km south of the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has been taking in evacuees from areas contaminated by radiation.

"In our daily lives, we gradually forget the dangers of such a disaster. But on this day, we recall the way that people helped each other in difficult times," said Mr Takashi Tachi, chairman of Nakoso.

"We gather to reaffirm the fact that we are safe, and so as not to forget what had happened," he said.

Said Ms Midori Watanabe, 76, another resident of Obama: "I'm grateful for being able to continue living here, and we are waiting for everyone to return home."

As night fell, residents across the prefecture gathered to light candles in memory of the disaster as well.

Residents of Koriyama city, which is about 60km west of the nuclear plant, came together in a concert to mark the anniversary.

Tents outside the concert venue displayed candles decorated with supportive messages from visitors.

Among them was Ms Tomoe Waragaya, 35, a receptionist born in Tamura city. She had brought along her seven-year-old daughter, Hazuki.

"I was here in Koriyama during the earthquake, and hope that Hazuki will learn the importance of supporting the victims of the disaster," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Residents gather to light candles, pray for victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe