SENDAI - The nation on Monday marked the second anniversary of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Tohoku’s coastline and left some 19,000 people dead or missing amid the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Interrupting the slow progress on reconstruction, memorial services were held in the three northeastern prefectures hit hardest by the tsunami as well as in Tokyo and elsewhere, with a moment of silence observed across the country at 2:46 p.m., the time the magnitude 9.0 quake hit exactly two years ago.
Along the Pacific coast, relatives of those killed offered prayers early Monday.
Antinuclear events were also held in parts of Japan to call on the country to abandon atomic power.
The meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant heightened public anxiety about the safety of nuclear power, forcing all but two reactors in the country to remain offline after being suspended for regular maintenance.
But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that idled reactors will be restarted once their safety has been confirmed to ensure stable electricity supply and affordable energy costs.
The Great East Japan Earthquake, one of the most powerful quakes on record, spawned tsunami that left 15,881 people dead, mostly in hard-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, with 2,668 people still listed as missing as of Friday, according to the National Police Agency.
About 1,400 police officers and Japan Coast Guardsmen conducted another intensive search for remains along the Pacific coast on Monday.
In the tsunami-ravaged town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, divers offered a silent prayer facing the sea before the start of the search. Nobuki Fujita, 38, who heads a dive team, said, “We hope to return those missing to their families.”
In the city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, Michiyuki Kikuchi, 65, who lost his 34-year-old daughter-in-law and a 6-year-old grandchild in the disaster, said: “I couldn’t help them. Two years have passed, but I still feel regret.” He attended a memorial ceremony held at a local facility.
A 45-year-old woman who lost her teenage son in the tsunami cried in front of a memorial built in Sendai’s Arahama coastal district, where the names of the victims are inscribed.
“When I see his name written on the monument, I again realize that my son is dead,” the woman said, adding she still feels as if her son will return home.
At an elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, where seven students were killed in the tsunami, the principal, Tatsuo Matsuura, 56, held up a sheet of paper that said “Never Forget,” and urged pupils to “cherish the lives of yourself and others.”
The tsunami destroyed or substantially damaged about 400,000 homes and other buildings, and reconstruction has been slow. In Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, construction has started on less than 10 percent of the planned public housing units for evacuees due to difficulties in securing high land.
Motoo Sasaki, a 66-year-old fisherman in the hard-hit coastal town of Yamada in Iwate Prefecture, expressed frustration over the slow progress on reconstruction, saying, “I believe it will take 10 years or more to get work done.”
Around 315,000 evacuees still lived in temporary housing and other makeshift residences across Japan as of February, according to the Reconstruction Agency and other authorities.
From Fukushima, about 57,000 residents have taken refugee outside the prefecture, even though the government declared in late 2011 that the nuclear crisis has been brought under control, as decontamination work has yet to be started at the crippled No. 1 power plant, which suffered three meltdowns and hydrogen explosions.
Sayaka Momma, a 16-year-old high school student who lost her grandmother in the tsunami, told a memorial ceremony in Nihommatsu, Fukushima, “Two years ago, I couldn’t accept her death, as my mind was occupied with running away from the nuclear plant.
“Day by day, my heart aches,” she said. The ceremony was held for residents of Namie, near the crippled plant, who were forced to evacuate to Nihonmatsu due to the nuclear crisis.
The tsunami also created an estimated 27.6 million tons of debris along the shores of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
$713 million from U.S.
Individuals, firms and nonprofit groups in the U.S. have donated a total of $712.6 million (¥68.4 billion) for relief in Japan in the two years since the March 11, 2011, disasters, the Japan Center for International Exchange said Monday.
That represents the third-largest amount from the U.S. private sector donated to victims of overseas disasters, following those for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake off Sumatra and those affected by the 2010 quake in Haiti.