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Japan’s Rubble Economy

TOKYO – On March 11, a year will have passed since Japan was struck by the triple tragedy of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. According to figures announced by the country’s National Police Agency, the Great East Japan Earthquake left behind 15,848 dead and 3,305 missing – the largest loss of life due to natural disaster in Japan since World War II. Searches for the missing – mainly at sea – are still continuing.

The number of buildings affected by the earthquake or the tsunami include 128,582 completely destroyed, 243,914 partly destroyed, 281 completely or partly burned, 33,056 flooded (including 17,806 above the ground floor, and 674,641 with other types of damage. Approximately 320,000 people lost their homes, of which more than 90% continue to live in temporary housing. Where to rebuild their homes remains undecided.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck western Japan in 1995 took 6,343 lives, in part because the city’s mazelike streets prevented access by emergency workers. In the aftermath, the city was reborn in a dramatically different and safer form.

Despite numerous difficulties, recovery from that earthquake was faster than expected: there was no tsunami to complicate matters, and rebuilding efforts could be focused on buildings that had collapsed in the earthquake. Moreover, the government provided strong leadership and official agencies responded rapidly, ensuring, among other things, a rapid cleanup of the rubble.