By Erik Slavin
Stars and Stripes
Recovery never really stops for major disaster victims.
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake ripped through eastern Japan, damaging buildings along hundreds of miles of coastline.
Within the hour, a tsunami that researchers say rose as high as 133 feet in one area and averaged 33 feet high at several other points crushed the northeastern Honshu coast. It swamped the power supply to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, triggering meltdowns and leaving the area uninhabitable due to radiation fallout. More than 20,000 would end up dead or missing.
The United States military launched Operation Tomodachi in response, mobilizing 24,500 servicemembers at its peak. The six-week mission — which provided lessons for future U.S. relief efforts — was lauded by Japanese officials and led to an upswing in U.S. approval there.
But recovery was up to the Japanese government. While trillions of yen have been spent, public opinion has often been critical at its pace and direction. Five years later, tens of thousands of people displaced by the disaster remain in temporary housing. The nuclear plant continues to contaminate 300 tons of seawater each day, leading to unsuitable water and soil.
Meanwhile, the region’s economy was beset by population decline and loss of jobs even before the disasters. The earthquake and tsunami accelerated that decline, and while reconstruction funds have helped, many residents wonder what will happen when the money runs out.
- GALLERY | Tears, prayers as Japan marks 5th anniversary of tsunami
- Containing Fukushima's radioactive water may be 9-year fight
- Decades of complications and cleanup remain at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant
- USS Ronald Reagan focus of radiation disaster drill in Japan
- Japan officials failed to use US data on spread of Fukushima radiation
- Fukushima 'decontamination troops' often exploited, shunned
- Japanese government to ease radioactive waste rules
- Five years after nuclear meltdown, no one knows what to do with Fukushima
- More coverage of the disaster
After quake, US military learned to play supporting role in relief
One of the toughest lessons the U.S. military learned from Operation Tomodachi is that it has to fight its inclination to take charge and instead needs to synch its actions more closely with a host nation’s requests.
Former vibrant community now just a stop on way to somewhere else
A reconstruction worker walks by the pictures of U.S. soldiers that he’s passed by before — but this time, he really looks.
Spurred by help from military families, tsunami victims aid others in need
Take papers dyed in springtime colors, fold them into dozens of flower shapes and sew them into a single ball.
Suburban sprawl, downtown struggles challenge Tohoku’s tsunami recovery
Any American from a city with a forgotten Main Street would recognize what is happening in the village of Ishinomaki.
Fukushima poses little risk, but lack of trust lingers
The worst health effects of the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown aren’t coming from radiation — at least, not yet.
DODDS athletes, coaches affected by Tohoku quake, too
Their concerns were clearly modest in light of the horrific events unfolding a couple of hundred miles north.