by Staff Writers
Ishinomaki, Japan (AFP) March 11, 2012
Public life in Japan will pause Sunday as the nation marks a year since a huge earthquake and tsunami killed 19,000 people and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands more.
At 2.46 pm (0546 GMT) trains will stop, shoppers will stand still and people throughout the archipelago will fall silent to mark the exact moment nature's fury was visited on the nation, when the 9.0-magnitude quake set off a catastrophic chain of events.
A national ceremony of remembrance in Tokyo will see the prime minister and the emperor leading silent prayers for those who lost their lives in the country's worst post-war disaster.
Small rural towns along the coast that were turned to matchwood when the tsunami rolled in, smashing whole neighbourhoods and wiping out communities, were set to hold their own emotional ceremonies.
In Ishinomaki, the families of some of those who died were due to visit graves, where they would be leaving flowers in memory of lost loved ones.
Keishitsu Ito said Sunday would be an intensely sad day for him.
"My wife was washed away by the tsunami. I will put these flowers on her grave," the 80-year-old told AFP.
"I am sad. I have no one to talk to anymore... or to argue with."
In Fukushima and the nearby city of Koriyama, tens of thousands of people were expected to gather in anti-nuclear protests, calling for the end of atomic power in the wake of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi.
Among those protesting will be some of the nuclear refugees forced to flee their homes in the shadow of the plant as it began venting toxic radiation over homes and farmland.
The government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) announced in December "a state of cold shutdown" for three runaway reactors that went into meltdown when their cooling systems were swamped by the tsunami.
But with radiation having leaked from the crippled plant for months, many parts of a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone around it are likely to remain uninhabitable for years -- perhaps decades -- to come, scientists warn.
Radiation fears across Fukushima and beyond were expected to swell the number of those taking part in the protests.
Setsuko Kuroda, an organiser of a two-day anti-nuclear protest in Koriyama said 20,000 people were expected on Sunday.
"We demand all children are evacuated from Fukushima now," she told AFP.
"Some experts say one third of children in Fukushima were affected by radiation.
"Leaving the situation like this is like they are committing a murder everyday."
The anniversary comes after it was revealed cabinet ministers as high as the prime minister had been warned of the possibility of meltdowns at Fukushima in the hours after the waves struck.
For two months after the disaster the government stuck to its line that there had been no meltdown, before finally acknowledging what independent scientists had been warning since March.
Writing in the Washington Post ahead of the anniversary, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the events of March 11 were etched on the nation's memory.
"We will not forget the loved ones, friends and colleagues lost in the disaster," he said.
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GIS siting of emergency vehicles improves response time
Athens, GA (SPX) Mar 08, 2012
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