Japan Marks 5th Tsunami Anniv.

Japan Marks 5th Tsunami Anniv.Japan Marks 5th Tsunami Anniv.

Japan is marking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that left more than 18,000 dead or missing.

Premier Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito attended a memorial in Tokyo, and joined a moment of silence nationwide at the exact moment the quake hit.

The magnitude-9.0 quake struck offshore creating a vast water surge that devastated the northeast coast. It also triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, BBC reported.

Water inundated the plant, taking cooling systems offline and setting off a series of meltdowns.

The subsequent disaster spewed radiation over a wide area and forced the evacuation of more than 160,000 local people. Five years on, most have not been able to return to their homes, despite extensive decontamination work.

The tragedy is also being marked by anti-nuclear protests with many Japanese left with a lingering distrust of nuclear power.

The earthquake on 11 March 2011 was one of the most powerful ever recorded.

But it was the resulting tsunami that claimed the most lives, as a wall of seawater powered through coastal areas of Tohoku, flattening entire towns and villages.

At 14:46 Tokyo time (0556 GMT), the exact moment the quake was detected, people across Japan bowed their heads as a mark of respect for the victims. Bells rang and in the capital, the underground metro came to halt.

Speaking ahead of the anniversary, Abe had said that for all those affected by the disaster “these five years must have been days of hardship and pain”. He promised an “ample budget” to help the worst-hit areas “stand on their feet again”.

He also said Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power in the long term.

All of Japan’s nuclear power plants were ordered offline amid safety concerns following the Fukushima disaster, forcing it to rely on expensive imported fossil fuels for power.

Only a few have since been restarted, despite opposition from residents who say not enough has been done to ensure such a disaster can never happen again.

Earlier this week, two plants were ordered to shut down again because of safety fears.

Overall 470,000 people were evacuated from the area around Fukushima as the scale of the radiation threat became clear.

The government has spent billions of dollars on reconstruction work, but much remains to be done and many have never been able to return.

For many survivors though, emotional difficulties are their main concern.  “Infrastructure is recovering, hearts are not. I thought time would take care of things,” Eiki Kumagai, a volunteer fireman. He was in Rikuzentakata, one of the worst hit areas, and lost 51 colleagues in the tsunami.

“I keep seeing the faces of those who died,” he told Reuters. “There’s so much regret, I can’t express it.”