Japan marks tsunami 2nd anniversary
AFP and ReutersISHINOMAKI/TOKYO, Japan -- People all over Japan bowed their heads in silence Monday as they remembered the almost 19,000 who died when a ferocious tsunami surged ashore two years earlier.
March 12, 2013, 12:19 am TWN
Ceremonies were held in towns and cities throughout the disaster zone, as well as in Tokyo, where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko led tributes to those who lost their lives in a disaster that also sparked a nuclear emergency.
As a mournful quiet descended, cold winds blew through the grounds of Okawa Elementary School, in Ishinomaki, where at least 70 children were swept to their deaths by the rising waters on March 11, 2011.
The city's tsunami alarms were sounded at 2:46 p.m. (0546 GMT), marking the exact moment a 9.0-magnitude undersea quake hit, sending a massive tsunami barreling into Japan's northeast coast.
A total of 15,881 people are confirmed to have died and 2,668 others remain unaccounted for.
The Emperor paid tribute to those who lost their lives, including the more than 2,300 whose deaths have been recorded as being caused by the stresses of life in evacuation centers or temporary housing.
“I am always deeply moved by seeing how so many people lead their daily lives without complaining ... and hope ... to be able to share their suffering, if only a little,” he said.
Schoolgirl Rin Yamane recounted the horror of the day she lost her mother as they tried to escape the waves.
“Suddenly, we were in the middle of a black sea ... When I saw her in a morgue a few days later, I knew then it was a reality,” she said.
Police in Miyagi prefecture were Monday continuing their search for those still listed as missing, with a 50-strong team scouring the coastline.
“We haven't found any bodies for a year,” police officer Toshiaki Okajima told AFP.
“But there are still 1,300 missing people in Miyagi alone and the feelings of families haven't changed. That's why the police need to keep looking for remains.”
Efforts to rebuild the disaster-hit region have been slow. Figures show 315,196 people are still without a permanent home, many in cramped temporary housing units.
Tsunami-hit communities are divided among those who want to rebuild on land that may have been in the family for generations and those who want to move their towns to higher, safer ground.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a news conference he wanted the anniversary of the disaster to serve as a beacon.
“March 11 has to be a day for hope,” he said. “When March 11 comes next year, it will have to be a day when people in the disaster zone can feel their communities are on the mend and their lives have improved greatly.”
“Our ancestors have overcome many difficulties and each time emerged stronger,” Abe, 58, who took office in December vowing to revive a stagnant economy and restore national pride, told a memorial service in Tokyo also attended by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
“We pledge anew to learn from them and move forward, holding each other's hands.”
Abe had earlier run an advertisement in English-language newspapers on Monday extolling the virtues of a resilient “New Japan” two years after 3.11.