A year after: Recovery continues in disaster-hit Japan

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The Yomiuri Shimbun, Asia News Network | Sun, 03/11/2012 2:57 PM

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Japan: A bus is removed by crane from the roof of the Ogatsu community center in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Saturday. (The Yomiuri Shimbun)A bus is removed by crane from the roof of the Ogatsu community center in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Saturday. (ANN/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

From graduation ceremonies to the removal of a bus that had been stranded on top of a two-story building by the March 11 tsunami, many people in disaster-hit areas spent Saturday at events that marked another step toward regaining a sense of normalcy ahead of Sunday’s first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

But all around, memories of the disaster are inescapable.

The hands on a wall clock at Tokura Middle School in Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, remain stuck at 2:48 p.m., two minutes after the devastating earthquake. The school still has no electricity, and the yard is filled by more than 10 temporary housing units.

On Saturday morning, snow fell in Minami-Sanriku–just as it did a year ago in many areas that were struck by the disaster.

Despite the cold conditions, Tokura Middle School held its graduation ceremony. Twenty students graduated at the ceremony, which was held in a hall on the second story of the school building at the strong request of many students and parents. Part of the hall’s ceiling was damaged by the earthquake.

The building, which is more than 15 meters above sea level, had been designated by the town government as an evacuation center. However, the massive tsunami inundated its first floor. Many residents who had sought safety there died, and more than 100 vehicles were swept away.

The school started its new academic year in May, one month later than an ordinary year. But due to the extensive damage the school suffered in the March 11 disaster, its students had to attend classes in a closed primary school in neighboring Tome in the prefecture.

After a year that had been unlike any other, the students and their parents wanted to hold the ceremony in a familiar school building. About 200 people attended, including parents and volunteers who came from around the nation to support survivors.

A photograph of Tatsunori Miura, a first-year student who died in the tsunami, was placed on one of the seats for current students. Miura was 13 when he died.

A sightseeing bus the tsunami dumped on top of the two-story community center in the Ogatsu district of Ishinomaki in the prefecture was finally removed Saturday.

The bus was swept about 500 meters by the tsunami from its garage.

Some people wanted the bus left on the 12-metre-high building as a symbol of the March 11 disaster. But the city government decided to remove the vehicle out of concern that leaving it perched on the building could remind residents of the fear they felt when the area was destroyed.

The bus was fixed with thick cables and slowly lowered to the ground by a crane. It will be scrapped in a few days and moved to a disposal site.

Photos, albums displayed

About 20,000 personal belongings including photos and albums swept away by the tsunami and found later in muddy fields were displayed to the public at a gymnasium in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, on Saturday.

In Miyako, 633 people died in the disaster. Though the city government had displayed these photos twice by last summer, few were claimed because they were covered in mud, which made it hard for survivors to identify them.

Since November, volunteers and high school students have been cleaning the photos to get them ready for a memorial ceremony to be held at the gym Sunday.

On Saturday, Sachiko Kitamura, who lives in a temporary housing unit in Miyako, found a photo of her daughter’s wedding ceremony.

“I’m near to tears. I’m happy because the photo is so clean,” said Kitamura, 77.

The city government intends to put these photos on permanent display from April at a prefabricated building.



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