At 2:46 p.m., Japan froze on Thursday, March 11, at the exact time the earthquake struck the country, ten years earlier. A minute of silence was observed across Japan, followed in Tokyo by a ceremony where Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga spoke.
The country commemorated Thursday the tenth anniversary of the triple disaster of March 11, 2011 – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident – which permanently traumatized the entire nation.
The heavy human toll of nearly 18,500 dead or missing was caused mainly by a gigantic tsunami, whose waves as high as buildings hit the coast of northeastern Japan shortly after the magnitude 9 earthquake. ensuing nuclear accident at the flood-swamped Fukushima Daiichi power plant, where the cores of three of the six reactors melted, left entire cities uninhabitable for years from radiation and forced tens of thousands of people leaving. It was the most serious nuclear accident since that of Chernobyl (Ukraine) in 1986.
“The magnitude of the damage caused by the disaster is so deep that the unforgettable memory of the tragedy lingers in my mind.”, said the emperor. “Our nation has lived through several disasters that can be considered as national crises”, But “Our predecessors overcame every crisis with courage and hope”, recalled for his part Mr. Suga, assuring that Japan would “Always forward”.
New earthquake on February 13
Public and private tributes were held throughout the day in northeastern Japan, such as in Hisanohama, in the coastal town of Iwaki (Fukushima county), where 78-year-old Toshio Kumaki prayed at sunrise. day on the concrete anti-tsunami wall built after 2011. “I come for a walk here every morning, but today is a special day”, he said, praying towards the rising sun.
In Miyagi, one of the three most damaged departments in the northeast, search operations have been organized by residents who still hope to find a loved one. The remains of a woman swept away by the tsunami of ten years ago were identified last week, freeing her son from excruciating uncertainty and allowing him, at last, to mourn.
On February 13, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake reminded us of the permanent seismic risks off Japan. More than a hundred people were injured in this earthquake, considered a distant replica of that of 2011.
These commemorations took place just two weeks before the scheduled departure, in Fukushima, of the Olympic torch relay for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, called “Reconstruction games”. The shadow of the pandemic hangs over the event, postponed to this year, but the Japanese government and organizers hope that the relay will refocus attention on this bruised region.
“People died before my eyes”
Nayuta Ganbe, a student from Sendai, capital of Miyagi County, speaks regularly at disaster prevention-themed events, drawing on her personal experience of the tsunami. But he usually prefers to pray in private on March 11.
“It was the day I lost my classmates. People died before my eyes. It’s a day that I hope I never have to relive ”, confides the young man, now 21 years old. This year, however, he wanted to participate in a ceremony: “Exactly ten years later, I hope to face the disaster with a new perspective”, he explained to Agence France-Presse.
For many, this anniversary is the occasion of a moment of personal reflection on a national drama still painfully present with tens of thousands of displaced people and 2% of the area of Fukushima in the forbidden zone.
Pastor Akira Sato, who preached in several Baptist churches and chapels still in the forbidden zone today, had to go to one of these abandoned places to meditate. “My wife and I will silently reflect on the days of disaster and offer a prayer”, he said earlier this month.