Japan marked the anniversary of a devastating tsunami that has left the country struggling to recover two years later. The earthquake and resulting tsunami left almost 19,000 people dead or missing and displaced more than 300,000.
Observances were held in Tokyo and still barren towns along the country’s northeastern coast. Those gathered together to remember the dead and missing.
They bowed their heads in a moment of silence at 2:46 pm local time — the exact moment the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast on March 11, 2011.
The earthquake was the strongest in Japan’s recorded history. It was so powerful it moved Japan’s main island eight feet east and shifted the Earth on its axis between four and 10 inches. The resulting tsunami wave reached heights of 133 feet when it rushed onto the island nation.
It also caused three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to reach level seven meltdowns after their cooling systems failed. But beyond the initial devastation, the effects of the Japanese tsunami are ongoing. Citizens are frustrated with the government’s slow clean up and coastal regions of the United States and Canada are on watch as debris continues to wash up on shore.
Most notable of the debris so far has been two sections of dock and a motorcycle, though bottles, pieces of homes, and even refrigerators have been seen washing up on shore. Japan estimated about 1.5 billion tons of debris was taken out to sea by the crushing tsunami wave.
Nancy Wallace, the director of the marine debris program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has said that there is no way to tell how much debris is floating still and how much has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Wallace added, “What we’re trying to be as focused on as possible is trying to prepare for it as best we can.”
But on the anniversary of the Japan tsunami, citizens are becoming increasingly restless. Tens of thousands across the disaster zone are still living in temporary housing as the money going toward the rebuilding projects has been stuck behind red tape or even used to fund unrelated projects. For some 160,000 residents in Fukushima prefecture, it is uncertain if they will ever return to their homes near the nuclear power plant.
A group of 800 people filed a lawsuit on Monday in Fukushima that demands both an apology and a payment of $625 per month until the radiation from the nuclear meltdown is completely wiped out. The process could take decades. Another 900 are planning similar lawsuits in Tokyo and elsewhere. Izutaro Managi, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, homes that 10,000 will join the lawsuits.
While there have not been any cases of cancer linked with the nuclear plant’s meltdown, evacuees are anxious about the potential risks of exposure to the radiation caused by the disaster. But while the physical tolls are not seen, the displaced residents have experienced a massive psychological toll. Yuko Endo, village chief in Kawachi, is anxious for residents to return. He believe that, if they are kept waiting too long, residents will never return to their homes.
A change in government has raised hopes that authorities might be more forthcoming with the recovery. Since taking office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it a point to visit the disaster areas multiple times. He also spoke at a memorial gathering in Tokyo for the tsunami’s second anniversary. Abo stated, “We cannot turn away from the harsh reality of the affected areas. The Great East Japan Earthquake still is an ongoing event.”
It is not clear how many anniversaries the Japanese people will have to mark before the cleanup from the massive tsunami is completed.