Photo/IllutrationA man offers a prayer in front of a monument dedicated to victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in Sendai’s Wakabayashi Ward on March 11, the eighth anniversary of the disaster. (Jun Kaneko)

  • Photo/Illustraion

More than 50,000 people remained displaced from their homes on March 11 as the nation marked the eighth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident.

The largest number of evacuees were in Fukushima Prefecture, at 32,631, as of Feb. 7, according to the latest government figures.

Around 93 percent of projects to elevate residential land and 98 percent of public housing projects for disaster victims are complete, according to the Reconstruction Agency. This progress is a key reason for the decline in the total number of evacuees from a peak of 470,000 to 51,778.

The number of people killed directly or indirectly by the disaster, and those feared dead, is 22,131, according to the National Police Agency and the Reconstruction Agency.

Almost all of the deaths and disappearances--18,430--occurred in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the northeastern Tohoku region, after the magnitude-9.0 offshore earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, and unleashed the devastating tsunami.

The number of people killed or missing as a result of the impact of the quake and tsunami is based on counting by the agencies as of March 8. The indirect deaths, including those who died as a result of stress and exhaustion during evacuation, came from statistics on Sept. 30 last year.

Rebuilding efforts are moving at a slow pace in municipalities that suffered extensive damage from the tsunami. Many survivors still live in temporary housing there.

Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were already seeing population declines before the disaster, reported a total decrease of 300,000 people over the past eight years.

Fukushima Prefecture is still trying to return to normalcy from the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Evacuation orders have been lifted for 10 municipalities, allowing residents to return home if they wish.

In Okuma, a town that co-hosts the crippled plant, the evacuation order is expected to be lifted for a limited area as early as in April. Measures are being planned to promote the permanent return of the evacuees.

But decommissioning the nuclear complex remains a formidable challenge for the operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Tanks already containing more than 1 million tons of radioactive water continue to accumulate at the plant site.

Retrieving and disposing of the melted nuclear fuel from the reactors will be a delicate and dangerous process. TEPCO, using a remote controlled probe, only recently made first contact with the melted fuel.