Three months marked since killer quake, tsunami

Anniversary of twin disasters observed with prayers, protests

Kyodo, AP

Events to commemorate the three-month anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the deadly tsunami it spawned were held Saturday throughout the Tohoku region, where about 15,400 people have been confirmed dead and more than 8,000 remain missing.

In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, survivors and volunteers gathered at an elementary school to help put up more than 2,000 colorful carp banners donated from across Japan to try to cheer up children.

While carp streamers are normally raised around Children’s Day on May 5, Takashi Hino, the 55-year-old assistant principal of the school, proposed flying them on the three-month anniversary as well. Volunteers spread the word and numerous donations arrived in the last month. The cloth banners were flown in three locations by schoolteachers, students’ parents, Self-Defense Forces personnel and others.

A memorial service was held in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, for three firefighters who lost their lives in the disaster — one at home and two who rushed to a local fire station after the quake, taking on the task of gathering information and ending up unable to escape the tsunami.

In the town of Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, Mayor Kiichi Numazaki said to residents through the emergency address system, “Let’s continue moving forward as one in restoration and toward reconstruction.”

The quake occurred at 2:46 p.m. March 11 off the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan, triggering massive tsunami that ravaged vast areas of the region.

In Tokyo, the focus of the three-month anniversary was on whether the country should continue to pursue nuclear energy, with protesters organizing demonstrations.

The disasters knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, setting off explosions, fires and large radiation leaks at the facility.

On Saturday, crowds gathered in a muddy field at a park next to the iconic Tokyo Tower, shouting antinuclear slogans and carrying colorful banners with phrases such as “Immediately stop all use of nuclear power and shut down the plants.”

The demonstrators poured out onto the streets of the capital in orderly rows, banging drums and shouting antinuclear slogans as they walked toward the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry and the head offices of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima plant. Police said about 2,000 people took part in the protest.

“Since the earthquake, I’ve realized that nuclear power is just too dangerous to use,” said Takeshi Terada, 32, a local shipping industry worker who came with 10 friends to take part in the protest.

While many in the Tokyo protests were members of large organizations that traditionally support such issues as antiwar legislation and women’s rights, some arrived in small groups with their families. Children and even dogs walked in clothing decorated with antinuclear slogans.

“I’m worried about the children. It’s not just in Fukushima, there are radiation problems even here in Tokyo,” said Mika Obuchi, 45, who marched with her husband and 9-year-old daughter.

Protests were held in other parts of the capital as well.

Three months after the disasters, 90,000 are still living in temporary shelters, such as school gyms and community centers. Some families have moved into temporary housing, but availability is limited and sufficient housing is not expected to be completed for several months.

Also Saturday, embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan travelled to Tohoku and visited a tsunami-damaged region in Iwate Prefecture.

In a meeting with local government officials, Kan pledged to reflect the requests made by devastated municipalities in the next reconstruction budget.