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March 11 marks the ninth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which resulted in a tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region. More than 22,000 people died or are presumed to have died in the disaster, which also destroyed tens of thousands of buildings, and catalyzed a triple nuclear meltdown, three hydrogen explosions and the release of radioactive contamination at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Huge numbers of people were forced to flee their homes with many facing the prospect they’d never be able to return. The dire situation could have been much worse, however, had it not been for the heroic actions of a group of power plant employees who continued to work on attempting to stabilize the reactors after everyone else had been evacuated. Overseas media dubbed them the “Fukushima 50,” even though the number of workers eventually ran into the hundreds.

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