Japan marks tsunami anniversary, no govt memorial amid virus

TOKYO (AP) — Some residents along the Japanese northern coast stood on roadsides overlooking the sea, offering silent prayers for their loved ones lost in a massive earthquake and tsunami nine years ago Wednesday. But in Tokyo and many other places around Japan, the day was being remembered without a main government ceremony due to the coronavirus outbreak.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated large swaths of Japan's northern coast and triggered a meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, contaminating large areas and dislocating many residents.

For the past eight years, residents and officials have gathered at local town halls to pray, while in Tokyo, the government held a main memorial attended by the Imperial Family members, televised live nationwide. This year, memorial events have been called off following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's request to cancel, postpone or downsize gatherings as part of measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

In Tokyo, Abe and his ministers were to gather at the Prime Minister's Office to offer a silent prayer at 2:46 p.m., the moment the offshore earthquake struck. In disaster-hit towns in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, desks were put out for visitors to sign messages and lay flowers.

Separately, several hundred people, including anti-nuclear activists, were to gather at Tokyo's Hibiya Park to mark the anniversary with music and speeches.

The quake and tsunami left more than 18,000 people dead and destroyed many houses and businesses. The meltdown at the Fukushima plant sent more than 160,000 people fleeing the region. More than 40,000 are still unable to return home due to radiation contamination and concerns.

Japan has confirmed more than 1,250 cases of the coronavirus, including 696 from a cruise ship and 19 deaths.


Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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