Koji Sasahara, Associated Press
TOKYO — As the world commemorated the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, Sunday was doubly significant for Japan. It marked six months since the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, a date now seared in the national consciousness.
Up and down the hard-hit northeast coast, families and communities came together to remember victims. Monks chanted. Survivors prayed. Mothers hung colorful paper cranes for their lost children.
At precisely 2:46 p.m., they stopped and observed a minute of silence. March 11 changed everything for them and their country.
The magnitude-9.0 earthquake produced the sort of devastation Japan hadn't seen since World War II. The tsunami that followed engulfed the northeast and wiped out entire towns. The waves inundated the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
Some 20,000 people are dead or missing. More than 800,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed. The disaster crippled businesses, roads and infrastructure. The Japanese Red Cross Society estimates that 400,000 people were displaced.
Half a year later, there are physical signs of progress.
Much of the debris has been cleared away or at least organized into big piles. In the port city of Kesennuma, many of the boats carried inland by the tsunami have been removed. Most evacuees have moved out of high school gyms and into temporary shelters or apartments.
The supply chain problems that led to critical parts shortages for Japan's auto and electronics makers are nearly resolved. Industrial production has almost recovered to pre-quake levels.
But beyond the surface is anxiety and frustration among survivors facing an uncertain future. They are growing increasingly impatient with a government they describe as too slow and without direction.
Masayuki Komatsu, a fisherman in Kesennuma, wants to restart his abalone farming business.
But he worries about radiation in the sea from the still-leaking Fukushima plant and isn't sure if his products will be safe enough to sell. He said officials are not providing adequate radiation information for local fisherman.
"I wonder if the government considers our horrible circumstances and the radiation concerns of people in my business," said Komatsu, who also lost his home.
Another resident, 80-year-old Takashi Sugawara, lost his sister in the tsunami and now lives in temporary housing. He wants to rebuild his home but is stuck in limbo for the time being.
"My family is not very wealthy, and I only wish that the country would decide what to do about the area as soon as possible," Sugawara said.
He might be waiting for a while. The Nikkei financial newspaper reported this week that many municipalities in the hardest-hit prefecture of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima have yet to draft reconstruction plans.
Of the 31 cities, towns and villages severely damaged by the disaster, just four have finalized their plans, the Nikkei said. The scale of the disaster, the national government's slow response and quarrels among residents have delayed the rebuilding process.
Workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant are still struggling to meet a goal of bringing it to a cold shutdown by early next year.
"We are barely keeping the reactors under control and the situation is still difficult," Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Yoshinori Moriyama said in Tokyo.
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