TOKYO – Japan on Friday marked the fifth anniversary of the 2011 tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and left a devastated coastline along the country’s northeast that has still not been fully rebuild.
In the town of Minamisanriku, a handful of tourists offered prayers in the morning at the skeletal remains of the once disaster prevention centre, where 43 workers died as tsunami waves engulfed the building.
Much of the devastated Tohoku coast remains empty except for mounds of dirt brought in to raise the ground level to minimize risks from future tsunamis before any rebuilding is done, CBS News reported.
On the eve of the anniversary, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to bolster reconstruction efforts in tsunami-hit northern Japan and the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.
Abe promised to rush decontamination work in irradiated areas near the plant to allow more residents to safely return home. He also set ambitious goals to reopen a damaged coastal railway in Fukushima by 2020 and triple tourism in the north.
“We will designate the next five years as a reconstruction revitalisation period. We plan to secure an ample budget to launch support measures to help disaster-hit areas stand on their feet again,” the Japanese prime minister said.
Tokyo is the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Residents of disaster-hit regions have criticised the government for rushing the reconstruction to showcase Fukushima’s safety for the Olympics rather than for the residents.
The government hopes to reopen all evacuation zones by next March, except for the dangerously contaminated surroundings of the plant.
Abe said he wants to triple the number of foreign visitors to the Tohoku region to 1.5 million in 2020 so that tourists can see the reconstruction “through their own eyes”.
He pledged to reopen the Joban railway line, part of which is in the highly contaminated no-go zone, by March 2020, just months before the Olympics.