National

Tohoku residents still haunted by memories of devastating 3/11 triple disaster

Kyodo, JIJI

Japan on Monday marked the eighth anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan that left more than 15,000 people dead and triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis.

As rain and strong winds hit coastal areas in the region, people attended memorials and offered prayers for the victims of the magnitude 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011.

“I can still vividly recall the harrowing scene after all these years,” said 63-year-old Seiichi Watanabe at a park on the hill where he fled in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, after his home was washed away by the tsunami.

The Miyagi police had been scheduled to search for remains of the missing in coastal areas, but terminated the plan due to poor weather. Officers in Fukushima and at most Iwate police stations were scheduled to go ahead with their planned searches.

Ayumi Kakuhari, 33, who lost her brother Tomoyuki Kanno, 20, to the tsunami in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, prayed before his grave in the rain.

“I still feel like he is going to suddenly show up one day,” she said.

On Sunday, a number of lit candles were placed on the field at the J-Village national soccer training center, which straddles the towns of Naraha and Hirono in Fukushima Prefecture.

On the holders of the candles were messages, including one that read, “I’ll never forget that day,” and another wishing for the reconstruction of Fukushima. The prefecture is also home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, where an unprecedented triple meltdown occurred due to damage from the tsunami.

At the “Candle Night” event, participants remembered victims of the natural disaster and prayed for further progress in post-disaster reconstruction. J-Village, once used as a base for measures to tackle the nuclear disaster, is set to be fully reopened as a training center next month.

A 26-year-old woman who is a native of the city of Fukushima said, “I want the perceived association with the nuclear plant to be dispelled from Fukushima.” She said she hoped that such a terrible natural disaster and nuclear accident would never happen again.

Some 1,300 people in the hardest-hit prefectures are expected to continue living in temporary housing due to delays in construction of replacement housing, financial problems and other reasons, a Kyodo News survey found.

In March 2021 the government is scheduled to disband the Reconstruction Agency, established seven years ago as the central control point for efforts to rebuild from the triple disasters.

But after acknowledging that affected people still need support, it has decided to effectively carry on the same work under a new entity it plans to create at the Cabinet Office.

Decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., is expected to take decades.

According to the decommissioning road map, the utility and the Japanese government will decide within the next fiscal year, starting this April, the method and order in which fuel will be extracted from three of the reactors that suffered core meltdowns and have extremely high radiation levels. The actual removal is expected to start in 2021.

Tepco has been attempting to examine the damaged reactors, and said last month its remote-controlled probe had found that fuel debris inside one of the reactors could be lifted.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5