By Jay Alabaster and Eric Talmadge
The Associated Press
SENDAI, Japan (AP) — A strong earthquake rattled Japan’s northeast on Monday just hours after people bowed their heads and wept in ceremonies to mark a month since the tsunami that killed up to 25,000 people and set off a still-unfolding nuclear crisis.
The latest quake, the second major aftershock in less than a week, was another jarring reminder of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that spawned the massive wave on March 11.
People in a large electronics store in Sendai screamed and ran outside and mothers grabbed their children, but there were no immediate reports of more damage or injuries.
Officials said operations were not endangered at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, where power was cut by the aftershock, but quickly restored. Japan’s meteorological agency measured the aftershock at a magnitude of 7.0, but a U.S. monitor said it was 6.6. The epicenter was just inland and about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tokyo.
The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is still leaking radiation after its cooling systems were knocked out by the tsunami, and the government on Monday urged more people living near the plant to leave within a month, citing concerns about long-term health risks from radiation. People who lived within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant have already been evacuated.
With workers still far from bringing the plant under control, the bodies of thousands of tsunami victims yet to be found, and more than 150,000 people living in shelters, there was little time for reflection on Japan’s worst disaster since World War II.
People in hard-hit towns gathered for ceremonies at 2:46 p.m., the exact moment of the massive quake a month earlier.
“My chest has been ripped open by the suffering and pain that this disaster has caused the people of our prefecture,” said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima, which saw its coastal areas devastated by the tsunami and is home to the damaged plant at the center of the nuclear crisis. “I have no words to express my sorrow.”
In a devastated coastal neighborhood in the city of Natori, three dozen firemen and soldiers removed their hats and helmets and joined hands atop a small hill that has become a memorial for the dead. Earlier, four monks in pointed hats rang a prayer bell there as they chanted for those killed.
The noisy clatter of construction equipment ceased briefly as crane operators stood outside their vehicles and bowed their heads.
In the industrial town of Kamaishi, Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso led a moment of commemoration as a loud siren rang through a high school gymnasium being used as a shelter. He bowed while people who have lived there since the tsunami kneeled on makeshift futons, bowed their heads, and clasped their hands.
The school’s students will return to classes Tuesday even though 129 people are living in their gym.
Some, like 16-year-old Keisuke Shirato, wore their baseball uniforms for Monday’s ceremony. Shirato’s family was not affected by the tsunami, but about half of his teammates lost their homes.
“A new school year starts tomorrow,” Shirato said. “Hopefully, that will help give people hope and allow them to look toward a new start.”
The earthquake and tsunami flattened communities along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline, causing what the government estimates could be as much as $310 billion in damages. More than 158,000 people are still without electricity and 210,000 have no running water, although some of that is because of the 7.1-magnitude aftershock that rattled the area last Thursday.
“Even after a month, I still cry when I watch the news,” said Marina Seito, 19, a student at a junior college who recalled being in a basement restaurant in Sendai when the earthquake hit. Plates fell and parts of the ceiling crashed down around her.
Adding to the misery is radiation spewing from the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. The 70,000 to 80,000 people who lived within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant must stay away from their homes indefinitely.
“We have no future plans. We can’t even start to think about it because we don’t know how long this will last or how long we will have to stay in these shelters,” said Atsushi Yanai, a 55-year-old construction worker. The tsunami spared his home, but he has to live in a shelter anyway because it is in the evacuation zone.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Monday that residents of five more communities, some more than 20 miles from the plant, are also being urged to leave because of high levels of radiation.
“This is not an emergency measure that people have to evacuate immediately,” Edano said. “We have decided this measure based on long-term health risks.”
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said its president, Masataka Shimizu, went to Fukushima prefecture Monday to relay his gratitude and apologies. Shimizu recently spent eight days in the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure, but has since returned to work.
Shimizu told reporters in Fukushima that people who live near the plant are “suffering physically and mentally due to the nuclear radiation leak accident.
“We sincerely apologize for this,” he said.
At TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo, hundreds of employees bowed their heads for a moment of silence at 2:46.
Japan’s government marked the one-month period by putting an ad in newspapers in China, South Korea, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States — a letter from Prime Minister Naoto Kan thanking people for the outpouring of support that followed the tsunami. The Red Cross alone said it has collected $107 million from overseas.
Kan described the outpouring as “kizuna,” the bond of friendship.
“We deeply appreciate the kizuna our friends from around the world have shown and I want to thank every nation, entity, and you personally, from the bottom of my heart.” ♦
Talmadge reported from Fukushima. Associated Press Writers Tomoko Hosaka in Kamaishi and Shino Yuasa, Mari Yamaguchi, and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.