Japan marks one month since quake

A new magnitude 6.6 quake hits Japan a month after a devastating earthquake and tsunami destroyed several coastal towns.

    One month after the worst natural disaster to ever hit Japan, yet another magnitude 6.6 earthquake has hit the country's northeast coast, causing power outages in some areas and at least one landslide.

    According to reports, the ground was shaking up and down as well side to side, as the earthquake hit on Monday. It is unclear if the latest earthquake has caused further damage to the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukoshima, although workers there have been temporaritly evacuated.

    A magnitude 9.0 quake hit Japan's northeast region on March 11, sending a roiling tsunami - a tower of waves measuring as high as 23 m in some areas - crashing into coastal towns and killing thousands of people.

    Sombre ceremonies and moments of silence held later on Monday to mark the moment when several fishing towns and ports were pulverised.

    The country is still struggling to calculate the losses from the massive quake and tsunami. Over 13,000 people are confirmed dead and 14,000 more are still missing, while more than 150,000 remain homeless in emergency shelters. Key infrastructure in several towns is battered, and it seems that reconstruction can be months, if not years, away.

    In addition to flattening communities along hundreds of kilometres of coastline, the government has estimated the cost of the damage at up to $310bn.

    Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from Rikuzentakata, one of the hardest hit towns on the country's northeast coast, said that the enormous recovery effort continues there, where authorities are still searching for bodies. Sixty-six were found yesterday alone.

    With the town's retaining wall, which was intended to protect it from tsunami gone, Fawcett said the will to rebuild Rikuzentakata is in doubt.

    He said that at this point, authorities are just trying to prevent people from abandoning the area entirely.

    "They're putting together as many temporary housing structures as possible. They're organising a very good relief effort in the evacuation centres that we've seen. What they said they're going to try to do is to keep a community here, higher up the hill," said Fawcett.

    "But obviously, it won't be the same town that people have grown up in and have come to love. They said this was a beautiful place."

    Ongoing crisis 

    Yukio Edano, Japan's cabinet secretary, apologised on Monday to tens of thousands of his countrymen still living in evacuation centres one month after the earthquake and tsunami.

    But there's still the matter of dealing with the unstable Daiichi nuclear plant.

    Engineers at the damaged plant north of Tokyo said on Sunday they were no closer to restoring the plant's cooling system, which is critical if overheated fuel rods are to be cooled and the six reactors brought under control. 

    They are hoping to stop pumping radioactive water into the ocean on Monday, days later than planned. 
    Four weeks after the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, a quarter of a century ago, the government was moving to extend a 20km  evacuation zone due to high levels of radiation, the Asahi newspaper reported.

    The Japanese government has so far refused to widen the zone, despite being urged to do so by the International Atomic Energy Agency and countries like the United States and Australia. The IAEA and the two countries advised citizens to stay 80km away from the plant. 

    The Asahi newspaper said the government would extend the zone to 30km in certain areas, depending on wind direction, and residents would be given a week to prepare for evacuation. 

    Political fallout

    Concern at Japan's inability to contain its nuclear crisis is mounting with the ruling party of Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister, suffering embarrassing losses in local elections and neighbouring China and South Korea voicing criticism. 

    Voters on Sunday vented their anger at the government's handling of the nuclear and humanitarian crisis,
    with Kan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan losing nearly 70 seats in local elections. 

    The Japan Times newspaper said authorities would soon forcibly close the 20km zone, stopping people returning to their shattered homes to pick through the rubble for belongings.

    Yuhei Sato, Fukoshima's governor criticised the evacuation policy, saying residents in a 20-30km radius were initially told to stay indoors and then advised to evacuate voluntarily.

    "Residents in the 20-30km radius were really confused about what to do," Sato told NHK television on Sunday.

    Media reports said that Sato would refuse to meet the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the damaged nuclear plant, when he visits the area on Monday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    How different voting systems work around the world

    How different voting systems work around the world

    Nearly two billion voters in 52 countries around the world will head to the polls this year to elect their leaders.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    How the art world's hunger for ancient artefacts is destroying a centuries-old culture. A journey across the Himalayas.