PICTURES

Japan marks 3rd anniversary of quake-tsunami disaster

Divers of a Japanese Coast Guard marine rescue unit observe a moment of silence before they search waters in the hope of finding missing persons at Tsukahama coastal area in Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture on March 10, 2014, one day before the third anniv
Divers of a Japanese Coast Guard marine rescue unit observe a moment of silence before they search waters in the hope of finding missing persons at Tsukahama coastal area in Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture on March 10, 2014, one day before the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. -- PHOTO: AFP
People pray at a cenotaph for tsunami victims at Okawa elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture on March 10, 2014, before the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.-- PHOTO: AFP
People pray at a cenotaph for tsunami victims at Okawa elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture on March 10, 2014, before the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.-- PHOTO: AFP
An anti-nuclear protester holds a placard in front of a branch of Kansai Electric Power Co, the operator of the Ohi nuclear power plant which has been shut down, in Tokyo on March 10, 2014, a day before the third anniversary of the March 11, 2011 ear
An anti-nuclear protester holds a placard in front of a branch of Kansai Electric Power Co, the operator of the Ohi nuclear power plant which has been shut down, in Tokyo on March 10, 2014, a day before the third anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The placard reads, "Protesting against Kansai Electric Power Co". -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A Buddhist statue erected to honour Japan's tsunami victims is seen on the seashore one day before the third anniversary of the country's March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the Arahama district of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture. -- PHOTO: AFP
A Buddhist statue erected to honour Japan's tsunami victims is seen on the seashore one day before the third anniversary of the country's March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the Arahama district of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture. -- PHOTO: AFP
Fishing boats sit grounded on land three years after the disaster in Namie, near the striken Tepco Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture on March 10, 2014, one day before the third anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami
Fishing boats sit grounded on land three years after the disaster in Namie, near the striken Tepco Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture on March 10, 2014, one day before the third anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11. -- PHOTO: AFP
People pray for victims of March 11 massive earthquake and tsunami atthe former disaster control centre in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture on March 9, 2014 two days before the third anniversary of March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. -- FILE PHOTO
People pray for victims of March 11 massive earthquake and tsunami atthe former disaster control centre in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture on March 9, 2014 two days before the third anniversary of March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Tuesday marks the third anniversary of the quake-tsunami disaster which swept away 18,000 victims, destroyed coastal communities, and sparked a nuclear emergency that forced a re-think on atomic power.

Remembrance ceremonies will be held in towns and cities around the disaster zone and in the capital Tokyo, where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are to lead tributes to those who lost their lives in Japan's worst peace-time disaster.

Many local governments will switch on a tsunami alarm siren at 2:46pm (1.46pm Singapore time), marking the exact moment a 9.0-magnitude undersea quake hit.

Its raw force unleashed a towering tsunami that travelled at the speed of a jet plane to the coast. Within minutes, communities were turned to matchwood, and whole families had drowned.

Waves also crashed into the Fukushima nuclear plant, sparking reactor meltdowns and explosions, and setting off the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

The crippled plant remains volatile and experts say the complicated decommissioning process will take decades, as fears persist over the long-term health effects of leaked radiation. The accident forced tens of thousands to flee from areas around the shattered site.

Although no one died as a direct result of Fukushima, about 1,650 area residents died from complications related to stress and other problems following the accident.

A total of 15,884 people are confirmed to have died in the tsunami with another 2,636 unaccounted for. Searchers still find human remains.

Japan tsunami deaths and damages

 

Fading hopes for rebuilding

Despite the government pledging billions of dollars in reconstruction aid, progress in disaster-hit regions has been slow, and thousands of disaster refugees struggle to cope.

Among almost 270,000 evacuees from the tsunami and Fukushima, about 100,000 are in temporary housing while others found shelter in new cities or with relatives.

Japan has so far built only 3.5 per cent of the new homes promised to disaster refugees in heavily affected Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

That has sowed doubt among many people, with some 77 per cent of Japanese saying the pace of reconstruction has fallen short, according to a poll conducted by Kyodo News and other media organisations in March.

On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who swept to power in late 2012, said Tokyo was only "halfway" done.

"I'm determined to accelerate the recovery and not let this disaster fade from memory," he told parliament.

"Japan's revival won't come without the restoration of devastated areas." Fierce anti-nuclear sentiment may have subsided, but it still poses a challenge to Mr Abe's bid to breathe life into Japan's long-tepid economy.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of citizens staged an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo ahead of the anniversary, voicing anger at the premier's plan to switch on shuttered nuclear reactors, which once supplied more than a quarter of the resource-poor nation's power.

Mr Abe repeated his view on Monday that reactors which can be deemed safe would be turned back on. All of Japan's reactors were switched off after the accident.

But Mr Abe, who said he regularly eats rice grown in the Fukushima region, added in a press briefing that "having experienced the accident, it's only natural for people to be concerned about the safety of nuclear plants".

Despite Tokyo's push to boost alternative energy, power sourced from wind farms and solar energy remains a fraction of Japan's needs.

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