News+Politics
Two Years After The Tsunami: The Struggle To Rebuild Takes A Heavy Toll On Japan
March 11, 2013
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Relatives of the tsunami victims pay tribute during a national memorial service in Tokyo

Two years ago today, ordinary life in Japan was shattered by a triple disaster - an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown.

More than 18,000 people died and more than 2,600 others are still officially listed as "missing" - their remains never found.

Today, there were ceremonies across Japan as people stopped for a moment of silence at 2:46 pm - the exact moment when the earthquake struck.

Two years later, more than 300,000 people are still living in crowded, cold, temporary shelters - waiting for their communities to be rebuilt, if that's even possible.

About 160,000 are from near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which had its reactors melt down after the tsunami knocked out its cooling systems.

They don't know if they'll ever be able to go back, with all the radiation in the ground and water.

"What I really want is to once again have "my home," 69-year-old Migaku Suzuki told the Associated Press. He also lost a son in the tsunami.

Of course, part of the problem is simply the scale of rebuilding. Ultimately, nature can wipe out a community faster than people can rebuild it.

Which is not to say there hasn't been progress. Euronews.com put together this photo series showing how far some areas have come since the tsunami.

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photo: euronews

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photo: euronews

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photo: euronews

You can see more then & now photos here.

For many people though, the recovery and rebuild has simply been slow and it's taking a toll.

800 or so survivors have filed a lawsuit against Japan's government and the plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), demanding compensation.

They each want $625 a month until all radiation from the accident is wiped out - which could take decades.

Izutaro Managi, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told the AP. "Two years after the disasters, neither the government nor TEPCO has clearly acknowledged their responsibility, nor have they provided sufficient support to cover the damages."

He and his fellow lawyers hope to get 10,000 people to join the lawsuit.

The government is struggling to get rid of the radiation, with workers cleaning up debris and wiping down abadoned buildings by hand.

The Guardian has put together a photo collection of empty towns around the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

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Protest signs criticizing Tokyo Electric Power along with a photo of residents on an abadoned home in Namie, Japan - Greg Baker/AP

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The outline of painted footprints in the abandoned town of Naraha - Greg Baker/AP

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Abandoned drink and rice vending machines in Naraha - Greg Baker/AP

You can see more images here.

Many people who - even if they're not homeless - can't find work or have had their businesses ruined, especially small business owners.

And of Japan's 50 nuclear power plants, only two are up and running as the government tries to figure out a new energy plan.

Most Japanese want to end or reduce the country's reliance on nuclear energy. But the new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in late December, is considered nuclear-friendly.

For now, he's promised to speed up the rebuilding and raise the long-term budget for reconstruction by $62 billion, to $262 billion.

"We cannot turn away from the harsh reality of the affected areas. The Great East Japan Earthquake still is an ongoing event," Abe said today. "Many of those hit by the disaster are still facing uncertainty over their futures."

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