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Japan marks anniversary of tsunami tragedy
by Staff Writers
Ishinomaki, Japan (AFP) March 11, 2012

'Inspired' Obama pledges to stand by Japan
Washington (AFP) March 9, 2012 - US President Barack Obama on Friday voiced admiration for Japan's resilience one year after its massive tsunami and vowed that the alliance between the two countries would remain "unshakeable."

Obama said he and First Lady Michelle Obama "join all Americans in honoring the memory" of the 19,000 left dead or missing when one of the strongest earthquakes in modern times sent devastating seismic waves crashing into Japan.

"We continue to be inspired by the Japanese people, who faced unimaginable loss with extraordinary fortitude. Their resilience and determination to rebuild stronger than before is an example for us all," Obama said.

"The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable and, going forward, the people of Japan will continue to have an enduring partner in the United States," Obama said in a statement.

The United States quickly assisted relief efforts after the March 11 disaster, reconstructing airstrips, flying supplies to worst-hit areas and assessing the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Some 24,000 US defense personnel were involved at the height of so-called "Operation Tomodachi," or "Friend," helping repair ties between the allies that had been strained in a dispute over the location of a US Marine base.

Obama hailed Japan, one of the world's largest donors, for maintaining its commitments on foreign assistance despite the overwhelming challenge of reconstruction. Just Friday, Japan committed $26.7 million to assist refugees in Afghanistan and throughout Africa.

"On this day when our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people in remembrance of the hardship faced one year ago, let us also celebrate the recovery underway in Japan and pay tribute to Japan's unflagging dedication to bettering the lives of others throughout the world," Obama said.

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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PM vows revitalization of Japan after quake
Washington (AFP) March 9, 2012 - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said, in comments made public late Friday, that his country will not forget the international support given to it in the wake of last year's deadly earthquake and vowed to revitalize the country's economy.

"We will not forget the loved ones, friends and colleagues lost in the disaster," Noda wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Post. "Nor will we forget the outpouring of support and international expressions of solidarity that Japan received. For this, we feel deeply indebted and forever appreciative."

The prime minister assured his nation had the collective will to tackle the most pressing issues that had arisen in the aftermath of the quake: reconstruction of affected areas, full decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, decontamination of the affected areas and "revitalization" of the Japanese economy.

Japan was rattled on March 11, 2011 by one of the strongest earthquakes in modern times which sent a tsunami crashing into the Fukushima Daiichi plant, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee as radioactivity spewed into the air.

The nuclear crisis did not directly claim any lives, although more than 19,000 people were killed by the force of the tsunami in Japan's worst post-World War II disaster.

The prime minister said the Japanese people must draw on the unique strengths of the country's economy, seek open cooperation with their international partners, and exploit the promise of new growth areas.

"Sectors such as energy, the environment, health and nursing care hold significant potential as leading growth industries where Japan can tap innovative ideas and investment from the private sector, including foreign direct investment, and play a leading role globally," he wrote.

Noda added his government was aiming to support increased international investment in Japan, not only in business but also in tourism.


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GIS siting of emergency vehicles improves response time
Athens, GA (SPX) Mar 08, 2012
In an emergency, minutes matter. With this knowledge, University of Georgia researchers developed a new method for determining where emergency vehicle stations should be located. The results of their work could improve ambulance response time for the 200 million Americans who dial 911 each year, according to the Federal Communications Commission. "If we can meet this critical time window [ ... read more

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