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April 11, 2011

Somber ceremonies mark month since tsunami

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan (AP) — Somber ceremonies and moments of silence were planned today to mark one month since a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan's northeast coast, killing as many as 25,000 people.

But with thousands of bodies yet to be found, a tsunami-flooded nuclear power plant still spewing radiation and more than 150,000 people living in shelters, there was little time for reflection on Japan's worst disaster since World War II.

"We offer our deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said today at a brief news conference where he pledged the government would do whatever it could to help survivors and end the nuclear crisis. "We are sorry for causing inconvenience and difficulties to those who still live in shelters."

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it generated flattened communities along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline. The government has estimated the cost of damages from the disaster could grow to $310 billion.

Frustrations are running particularly high among people like Atsushi Yanai, a 55-year-old construction worker forced to live in a shelter not because his home was destroyed but because it is within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Government officials have ordered people out of the zone because of radiation concerns, and those farther from the plant may also be told to leave as the crisis drags on.

"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," Yanai said. "This is what is so hard for us."

Ahead of the anniversary, nuclear safety official Hidehiko Nishiyama apologized for the worry and inconvenience caused by the radiation spilling from the plant, where cooling systems disabled by the March 11 tsunami still have not been restored and likely won't be for several months.

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