Hokkaido islanders pray for victims on 25th anniversary of deadly earthquake and tsunami

Kyodo

Local people on a small island off the coast of Hokkaido paid tribute Thursday to more than 200 victims of a deadly earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck a quarter of a century ago.

On Okushiri Island, where 198 people were killed or went missing, their relatives and local residents held a moment of silence at 10:17 a.m., half a day before the time the magnitude 7.8 quake occurred, on July 12, 1993. The observance was announced by a siren broadcast across the community through its public loudspeaker system.

In the evening, the islanders floated lanterns in the sea and lit 1,000 candles near a cenotaph for the victims.

A total of 230 people were left dead or missing in Hokkaido and Aomori prefectures following the earthquake and tsunami.

The 143-square-kilometer island in the Sea of Japan off western Hokkaido was the hardest hit by the natural disaster, and fire razed hundreds of houses.

“I’m most worried about memories of the tragedy being lost,” said Toru Kodera, a 48-year-old office worker who was among those who lost their homes.

The tsunami killed his father, mother and 14-year-old younger brother, and left his grandmother missing and presumed dead, causing Kodera to avoid telling others about his painful memories.

But he changed his mind after the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that devastated northeastern Japan and left more than 18,000 people dead or missing.

“You had to leave with only the clothes on your back and escape to a high place as fast as you could, without thinking of taking valuables,” Kodera said, adding that this is something he often tells visitors from outside the island when asked about the 1993 catastrophe.

Okushiri’s local government has not held an official memorial ceremony for the victims since 2013, when the 20th anniversary of the disaster was marked, citing financial difficulties. But associations of bereaved families in each district have continued with memorial services for those who lost their lives.