A year since a massive earthquake and tsunami struck its north-eastern coast claiming more than 19,000 lives, Japan remembers the catastrophe with prayers and moments of silence.
Dozens of people from across the country gathered at dawn in the devastated northeastern coastal city of Rikuzentakata to pray in front of the only one of a 60,000-strong protected forest pine tree, which survived the tsunami and became a symbol of hope. Some returned to where their houses once stood, and placed flowers and small presents for loved ones lost in the disaster.
“I wanted to save people, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even help my father. I cannot keep on crying,” one of the survivors Naomi Fujino, who lost her father in the tsunami, recalls. “What can I do but keep on going?”
The exact moment the quake hit at 2:46 p.m. local time was marked by warning sirens and silence.
At the same time, millions of mourners, including the Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, attended the main memorial ceremony at Tokyo’s National Theatre led by Japan’s Emperor Akihito.
The magnitude 9.0 quake, the most powerful since records that hit 400 km north-east of Tokyo on 11 March 2011, triggered both the deadly tsunami and a major nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Fires and explosions in the plant’s reactor buildings, which led to a radiation leak, resulted in authorities creating a 20 km exclusion zone, leaving tens of thousands Fukushima inhabitants homeless.
The total damage of the triple catastrophe that killed over 19,000 people and displaced 500,000 more is estimated at about 25 million yen, or $300 billion.
According to scientists, the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11 2011 was so powerful that it actually moved the whole planet by 25cm, making it spin a little faster and shortening the day by 1.8 millionths of a second.