Earthquake-Tsunami Anniversary: Japan Marks Four Years Since Disaster

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TOKYO — Japan has marked the fourth anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that claimed nearly 20,000 lives and triggered a nuclear disaster with prayers and promises of better days ahead.

Events were held across the disaster-struck region and in capital Tokyo, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko observed a minute of silence at 2:46 p.m. (1:36 a.m. ET) on Wednesday, the moment a magnitude-9 tremor struck.

“Four years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake which brought unprecedented destruction particularly to northern Japan,” Abe said at the ceremony. “Countless irreplaceable lives were lost. It still fills me with deep sadness to think of those who have lost their dear family members, relatives and friends.”

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Abe has been keen to stress his government’s reconstruction efforts in addition to honoring those who died, and on Tuesday promised to create a new-five year plan to speed up rebuilding efforts.

All 18,000 fishing vessels destroyed in the disaster had been replaced, and 80 percent of the fishing factories damaged by the tsunami had been rebuilt, Abe said. Crops have been planted on 70 percent of the pre-tsunami farm land, he added.

“These are single steps, but the reconstruction efforts have undeniably entered a new stage,” Abe said. “This is something I am certain of after making my visits to the affected areas once a month.”

Japan has already allocated more than $15 billion to lowering radiation in towns near the plant since the massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

But there is still much work to be done. While the government says it expect some 10,000 public housing units to be finished this year, more than 220,000 people have not been able to move home four years after their lives were turned upside down by the earthquake and tsunami.

And some 80,000 residents still live in temporary government housing — a sign of the overwhelming task that lies ahead

— Arata Yamamoto

Reuters contributed to this report.