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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Lives still in limbo, buildings in ruins one year after tsunami in Japan

This story first appeared in The Straits Times on March 10, 2012

Published on Mar 11, 2014 5:16 PM

The mention of “tsunami” still gives rice farmer Fumihiko Yamaki the shakes.

“I was on my way to my greenhouses about 250m from my house when it struck,” the 42-year-old recalls, the scene still fresh in his mind.
Giant waves set off by a 9-magnitude earthquake on March 11 last year cut a path of devastation as they rolled inland along Japan’s north-east coast.

As the waters approached Iwanuma city, Miyagi prefecture, where Mr Yamaki lives, the father of two quickly bundled his family into his car and sped off, fleeing ahead of the wave that engulfed their two-storey house, situated a good 1.7km from the coast.

A year on, Mr Yamaki has started planting again. But he is one of only three farmers among some 300 in his area able to do so.
Rebuilding lives and industry along Japan’s north-eastern Tohoku region, especially the three hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, has been painfully slow. More than three million people were affected.

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Background story


150,000 - Fukushima Prefecture residents unable to return to their homes, either due to tsunami damage or radiation

20 years - That’s how long it may take to cleanse Fukushima of radioactivity

34,000 - Children in Fukushima Prefecture issued with dosimeters

9.7 metres - Height of the tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

40.2 metres - Maximum estimated height of the tsunami

2.4 metres - The distance to the east the entire Japanese archipelago was shifted by the quake

200 million tonnes - Amount of water that struck each 1-km stretch of the Tohoku coastline in four or more waves

340,000 - Buildings completely or partially destroyed

15,846 - Confirmed deaths as of Feb 6

3,320 - Still listed as missing as of Feb 6

$49.8 billion - Amount allocated to the government’s Reconstruction Special Account Budget

$159 million - Estimated cost of repairs of residential and office buildings