TOKYO – An earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster.
Japan was 10 years on Thursday since a triple disaster crippled the northeastern region, killing thousands and leaving a trail of havoc that many survivors still struggled to reconnect after a decade.
The 9.0 quake, the strongest in the country’s history, occurred on March 11, 2011.
It triggered a tsunami that swept far inland, destroying cities and causing collapses at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 people died, mostly during the tsunami, and nearly half a million people were displaced when the region suffered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Ten years later, many in Japan went to the coast with bouquets of flowers or visited graves to pray on Thursday, while others participated in protests against nuclear weapons to mark the anniversary.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito and his wife, along with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, attended a somber memorial in Tokyo and watched a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. – The moment the tremors started.
“My heart aches” thinking of those who have lost loved ones, jobs and communities, Naruhito said, noting that many Fukushima residents still cannot return.
“I also think it’s important to heal emotional scars and take care of the mental and physical health of those affected, including the elderly and children,” he told a pared-down audience who wore masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Suga, dressed in a black suit, told the memorial that the loss of life was still impossible to look at.
The disaster has hung over Japanese life for 10 years since it made global headlines, and on Thursday the support came from abroad.
The singer Lady Gaga, Anyone with a large fan base in the country expressed a message of solidarity.
“It seems like I saw the shocking footage of the devastating earthquake and tsunami on the news yesterday and thought, ‘What can I do to help?'” She said in a video on Twitter.
After the disaster, the singer contributed a song to the charity album “Songs for Japan” and $ 1.5 million to raise funds from the sale of a bracelet on her website. She also appeared on a benefit show for the Japanese Red Cross.
“Let us all continue to support one another, be kind and love one another,” she added, making comparisons with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the most seismically active areas in the world. A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture last month, raising fears of a recurring crisis but causing little damage.
Around 40,000 people have still been displaced by the disaster and cannot return to areas near the destroyed facility that are still closed due to radioactive contamination.
The government has spent around $ 300 billion on rebuilding the region, but it will take decades and billions of dollars to shut down the facility safely.
In a show of rebirth, Fukushima was supposed to host parts of the Summer Olympics, which should take place in Japan in 2020.
However, the games were postponed to July due to the pandemic and hit a sexism scandal. The resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for health reasons last August and heightened tensions between the US and China have further tarnished the year the country was set to celebrate.
The monument on Thursday comes two weeks before the Fukushima Olympic torch relay begins. Suga said the Olympics would show Japan’s recovery from the disaster.
Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo and Adela Suliman from London.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed.