Many small businesses hit by the 2011 earthquake and the subsequent nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan continue to face difficulties in turning around their battered operations, officials at a state body providing financial assistance to them said Tuesday.

The government organization, established in 2012 to take over the debts of disaster-hit businesses from banks, has provided assistance such as debt relief to 744 small businesses to date, but only 21%, or 155 companies, had completed their turnaround as of September, while 24 went under, the officials said.

The organization provides financial support to such companies for up to 15 years with the aim of helping them gain access to new loans to rebuild their businesses and protecting local jobs.

Firms involved in seafood processing, one of the main industries in the northeastern coastal areas hit hard by the disaster, are particularly struggling to overcome disaster damage, and fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic is making their business recovery even more challenging, officials said.

Total sales of 565 companies still receiving the organization's assistance are far short of the levels before the disaster, and their combined earnings are still in the red, they said.

The quake disaster left nearly 15,900 people dead and more than 2,500 unaccounted for, and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl accident.