One Year Later: Japan Marks Somber Anniversary of Disaster

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TOKYO (CNN) — One year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck northeast Japan, killing nearly 16,000 people and sparking the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, the country will pause Sunday to remember the exact moment the earth shook.

At exactly 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. ET), a moment of silence will be held to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the 9.0-magnitude quake — a tremor so great, it literally shifted the earth’s axis.

Observances will be held across the country, with a main ceremony at the New National Theatre in Tokyo. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to attend that event and offer remarks.

He spoke to CNN recently about the country’s rebuilding efforts, which represent Japan’s greatest challenge since the end of World War II. Total damage has been estimated at about 25 million yen, or roughly $300 billion so far.

“The Japanese people are united in working with the government to put all our might towards working on the reconstruction,” Noda said this month.

“The debris cleanup, the building of temporary houses and daily support for the disaster victims — we have been making steady progress on all those issues,” he said.

Besides wrecking havoc itself, the earthquake triggered one of the worst tsunamis in recent years, unleashing a wall of water that swept away lives, homes and sent millions of people fleeing for higher ground.

Japan also found itself dealing with the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the quake’s wake.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility was knocked offline, resulting in a meltdown of three reactors, with radiation leaking into the air and contaminated water spilling into the sea. While no deaths were attributed to the nuclear disaster, more than 100,000 people remain displaced from the towns where its long-lived fallout settled.

One year on, Japan is far from dug out of the destruction wrought by the triple disaster, which killed nearly 16,000 people. More than 3,000 others are still missing. But the country, the prime minister said, is committed to rebuilding and emerging as a strengthened nation.

“I would like to accelerate the reconstruction and by doing so energize Japan as well,” Noda said.

— CNN’s Kyung Lah contributed to this report.

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