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It's been 10 years since the devastating Japan earthquake and tsunami

Last Updated Mar 11, 2021 at 7:47 am PDT

Japan's Emperor Naruhito, right, and Empress Masako bow in front of the altar for victims of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami at the national memorial service in Tokyo, Thursday, March 11, 2021. Japan is marking the 10th anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster with many survivors’ lives are still on hold. (Behrouz Mehri/Pool Photo via AP)

More than 18,000 people died as a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan

Moment of silence held for victims of 2011 earthquake, tsunami in Japan Thursday on 10-year anniversary of disaster

TOKYO – Thursday marks a somber anniversary in Japan. It’s been 10 years since a devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck the nation, killing more than 18,000 people.

A memorial service was held in Tokyo Thursday to honour the dead. The earthquake — which is also called the Great Sendai Earthquake or Great Tohoku Earthquake — struck Japan’s northeast coast at 2:46 p.m. local time. The quake and resulting tsunami triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plan, forcing half a million people to leave the surrounding area because of a radiation leak.

The tremblor was one of the strongest on record.

Its epicentre was located about 130 kilometres east of Sendai, a city on the Miyagi prefecture. It was felt in parts of Russia, China, and Taiwan.

At the memorial in Tokyo, a moment of silence was held at 2:46 p.m. to mark the minute devastation began. Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga were among those in attendance. People carried bouquets of flowers as they walked to the seaside or visited graves to pray for family and friends killed in the disaster.

A woman who lost her husband and grandchild in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, prays in front of the grave in Miyako, Iwate prefecture, Japan Thursday, March 11, 2021. Thursday marks the 10th anniversary of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that struck Japan’s northeastern coast. (Muneyuki Tomari/Kyodo News via AP)

The government has said this is the last year it will organize a national commemoration for the disaster.

“Reconstruction in disaster-hit areas has moved forward significantly, but recovery of the survivors’ hearts is not making as much progress as we wish,” Makoto Saito, a teacher at an elementary school in Minamisoma who lost his 5-year-old son Shota in the tsunami, said in a speech at the Tokyo ceremony.

Saito said he is afraid memories are fading outside of the disaster zone, and that he is committed to preventing that from happening by continuing to recount the lessons from the disaster and telling the stories of his son.

No deaths have been confirmed directly from the radiation, but Fukushima has fallen behind in the recovery efforts, with pieces of land totaling 33,000 hectares in seven towns near the nuclear plant still classified as no-go zones. Securing the nuclear fuel, dismantling the reactors and decontaminating the plant is an unprecedented challenge, with some questioning after 10 years of work whether it can be done.

This satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility in Japan on Monday, March 14, 2011. Radiation from the leaking Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan was detected on the shores of Vancouver Island. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/DigitalGlobe MANDATORY CREDIT

But the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, which ran the plant, said in a statement Thursday that the company is determined to continue the cleanup and help develop jobs and businesses related to that process.

Thursday’s ceremony in Tokyo comes just two weeks before the Olympic torch relay is set to begin from Fukushima. Suga has said the Olympics — which were delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — will showcase Japan’s recovery from the disaster and will be proof of human victory over the pandemic. Some argue recovery is not yet done.