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Residents in a wide area of northeastern Japan ravaged by the March 11 quake and tsunami held ceremonies Sunday, the six-month anniversary, in memory of the victims of the massive calamities.

Jin Sato, mayor of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the three prefectures most severely devastated by the disasters, spoke at a ceremony at the “Bayside Arena” gym after attendees offered silent prayers for the repose of the victims’ souls.

After recounting his memories of the immediate aftermath of the tsunami that submerged a large part of his town, Sato, his voice choking with emotion, told the audience, “Although numerous hardships are awaiting us in our road toward reconstruction, let us pledge that we will build up a new town on the basis of the solidarity of our townsfolk.”

The magnitude 9.0 temblor and tsunami killed more than 15,700 people, while leaving 4,000 people still missing.

In Miyagi where more than 2,000 people remain missing, the prefectural police organized a special search party Sunday to scour both coastal waters and shore areas.

In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, another town devastated by the massive tsunami wave, townsfolk gathered at the Yokoyama Hachimangu shinto shrine to pray for divine assistance in reconstructing the devastated city.

The prayer service was timed to coincide with the shrine’s annual autumn festival, with some 180 local residents carrying a portable shrine through the town’s streets.

The twin disasters damaged more than 60 percent of the buildings in the neighborhood inhabited by the shrine’s parishioners.

A 74-year-old man who is the representative of the parishioners said, “We hope to bolster the spirits of people who lost their homes and family members to the disasters as much as possible” through the festival.

Meanwhile, Toshio Nishizawa, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., released a press statement to mark the six-month anniversary of the nuclear crisis at the utility’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station triggered by the March 11 natural disasters.

“We offer our hearty apology anew to both Fukushima Prefecture residents and Japanese people to whom we have caused serious troubles and anxieties,” Nishizawa said in the statement.

Nishizawa also pledged that the utility “will make all-out efforts (to bring the power plant’s reactors under control) so that evacuees can return home as speedily as possible.”