• Kyodo

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A memorial ceremony was held Saturday on Hokkaido’s Okushiri Island to mark the 10th anniversary of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that caused a series of 10-meter-high tsunami, killing 230 people.

Cities such as Otaru and Esashi on Hokkaido were also affected by the 1993 quake off southwestern Hokkaido and the ensuing tsunami, but Okushiri Island was the worst affected, with 172 fatalities. More than 1,400 houses were destroyed and the cost of the damage was put at 66.4 billion yen.

Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi, Okushiri Mayor Toru Gambara and victims’ relatives attended the ceremony, at a gymnasium in Okushiri. The town, which was destroyed, has been rebuilt with new disaster prevention facilities. The island has received 19 billion yen in donations from across Japan.

New tsunami countermeasures have been introduced, including breakwaters of the same height as the tsunami that hit after the quake.

Life has returned to normal on the island, but the pain of losing loved ones has not faded for the victims’ families.

“At night, I drink alone after work. It’s lonely,” said Hiromitsu Morikawa, 46, whose wife and two of their children died when a landslide flattened their home during the earthquake. Morikawa’s only surviving daughter, 16-year-old Miho, left the island this spring to attend a high school in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

Yoshisada Masukawa, 54, began compiling a booklet of Okushiri residents’ memories of the quake. Masukawa’s mother Kimie, 72, was killed by a tsunami.

“My mother might have been saved if (she) had escaped to higher ground earlier,” Masukawa said.

The 84-sq. km island is a center for tourism and sea urchin fishing. It now faces a series of new problems, such as a declining population and aging residents. The island presently has 3,900 residents, 800 fewer than before the earthquake.

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