TOKYO — Small clusters of survivors, bundled up against a chilly wind, gathered along Japan's northeast coast Wednesday to remember the nearly 19,000 lives lost in the March 11, 2011, tsunami. Four years later, the region is still struggling to recover.
Associated Press photographer Eugene Hoshiko returned to the devastated town of Rikuzentakata last week for the first time since the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
He found a vast emptiness. With the mind-boggling sea of debris cleared away, a massive public works project was underway to raise the low-lying, tsunami-flattened area by several meters (yards) before rebuilding on it. The rumble of passing dump trucks and long conveyor belts bringing in load after load of soil pierced the silence. On higher nearby ground, displaced residents waited in temporary housing.
A look at the devastation and the recovery:
BY THE NUMBERS
— 15,891 people confirmed dead, 6,152 injured and 2,584 still unaccounted for.
— Some 229,000 people, about half as many as initially, remain evacuated from their homes. About 90,000 live in temporary housing. Of the total, more than half come from areas affected by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant meltdowns.
— About one-fifth of the 29,000 government housing units planned for completion by March 2016 are finished.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday pledged funding for a second five-year reconstruction period to start in April 2016. He didn't give a specific amount, but Japanese media speculation put it at 6 trillion yen ($50 billion), less than a quarter of the current package. He said the government plans to compile a plan by the summer. Abe also vowed to expedite housing construction.
THE EMPEROR'S WORDS
At a solemn ceremony in Tokyo on Wednesday, Emperor Akihito said he still recalls the "unforgettable, horrifying" footage of the tsunami on television four years ago, and that he shares the pain of those still without prospect of returning home because of the radiation in Fukushima.
"Many of the people who were affected by the disasters are still living under a difficult environment today," he said. "I'm especially concerned about the health of the people who are getting older every year. It is important for all Japanese to put their hearts together and stay close by them for support."