Six years ago, more than 18,000 people died or went missing as a tsunami triggered by a massive quake engulfed coastal areas of northeastern Japan. Tens of thousands more people's lives were unraveled when they lost family members, friends, homes, and livelihoods. The displacement widened as entire communities fled after meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. Most of the towns devastated in the March 11, 2011, disasters have only partially rebuilt, and local authorities are struggling to finance construction. Meanwhile, despite an abundance of jobs thanks to the rebuilding, the population in most of the region is falling. As Japan marks the anniversary Saturday, some measures of progress in the recovery:
- Reconstruction. The government spent 26 trillion yen ($220 billion) in recovery and rebuilding from 2011-2015, but is due to slash that to only 6.5 trillion yen in 2016-2020. Reconstruction has been hampered by a shortage of workers, and while much of the public housing planned to replace destroyed homes has been finished, about a fifth of the units stand empty.
- Displaced families. As many as 150,000 people fled radiation-affected areas near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. As of February, 123,000 were still displaced. Housing subsidies for so-called "voluntary evacuees"—those who left areas not designated as evacuation zones—are due to run out by the end of March. Japanese media say some of those families have struggled to find new housing.
- The nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co. is struggling to decommission the wrecked plant and the estimated total cost exceeds $182 billion. Cleanup of nearby areas has lagged and radiation levels remain high. The cost of that cleanup has reportedly almost doubled to $35 billion. TEPCO officials say radiation is not leaking outside of the reactors.
- Fisheries. Many of the seaside towns in the disaster zone relied heavily on fishing and aquaculture. Data from Iwate prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas, shows harvests of salmon and oysters still only at 40% of the level when the tsunami hit.
- The missing. Some 2,553 people are still missing, and occasionally teams still search the coastline for signs of their remains. What's also missing are the many close-knit fishing hamlets and waterfronts in areas that were scoured bare by the tsunami, where only foundations remain.
(A robot probe sent to investigate the Unit 2 reactor at Fukushima did not fare well