Japan marks somber anniversary of disaster

By: Associated Press/CBS News
By: Associated Press/CBS News

Sunday, March 11, 2012

(CBS/AP) JAPAN -- People across Japan prayed and stood in silence on Sunday to remember the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the nation one year ago, killing just over 19,000 people and unleashing the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter century.

In the devastated northeastern coastal town of Rikuzentakata, a siren sounded at 2:46 p.m. — the exact time the magnitude-9.0 quake struck on March 11, 2011 — and a Buddhist priest in a purple robe rang a huge bell at a damaged temple overlooking a barren area where houses once stood.

At the same time in the seaside town of Onagawa, people facing the sea pressed their hands together in silent prayer.

In Tokyo's National Theatre, Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko led a national ceremony of mourning for the nearly 20,000 victims of last year's multiple disasters. CBS News' Lucy Craft reports that 1,200 people in attendance who had lost a loved one in the disaster paused for a moment of silence, at 2:46 p.m.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pledged maximum efforts to restore the disaster zones. He vowed that Fukushima Prefecture, the radiation-contaminated site of the nuclear accident, would become pristine once again.

Even in Tokyo's busy shopping district of Shibuya, pedestrians briefly stopped and fell silent before carrying on.

The earthquake was the strongest recorded in Japan's history, and set off a tsunami that swelled to more than 65 feet in some spots along the northeastern coast, destroying tens of thousands of homes and bringing widespread destruction.

The tsunami also knocked out the vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing meltdowns at three reactors and spewing radiation into the air. Some 100,000 residents who were forced to flee remain in temporary housing or with relatives, and a 12-mile area around the plant is still off limits.

(Copyright 2012, The Associated Press)

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