Japan honours the victims of its worst disaster since World War Two on Monday: the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that killed almost 19,000 people and stranded 315,000 evacuees, including refugees who fled radiation from the devastated Fukushima atomic plant.
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck northeast Japan at 2:46 p.m., triggering tsunami waves as high as 30 metres that swept away residents and their homes.
Walls of water 13 metres high smashed into Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (Tepco) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant north of Tokyo, knocking out its main power supply, destroying backup generators and crippling the cooling system. Three reactors melted down in the world’s worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Two years later, rebuilding the northeast – a region already suffering from a fast-ageing population and stagnant local industries including farming – is patchy. Almost 300,000 people still live in temporary housing.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant has been brought into a stable state known as “cold shut down” but decommissioning its damaged reactors will take decades and cost billions of dollars. Many of the 160,000 who fled will never be able to return.