TOKYO (AP) - Japan is marking the third anniversary of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 19,000 people dead or missing, turned coastal communities into wasteland and triggered a nuclear crisis.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito will speak at a memorial service Tuesday to mourn for the victims, marking the moment the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck.
Japan has struggled to rebuild tsunami-hit communities and to clean up radiation from the meltdowns of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Reconstruction plans are finally taking shape, but shortages of skilled workers and materials are delaying the work. Abe has vowed to boost the rebuilding.
The triple disasters of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear known as 3.11 killed 15,884 people and left 2,636 unaccounted for on its northern coast, as of the end of last month. The country has earmarked 25 trillion yen ($250 billion) for reconstruction through March 2016. Nearly 270,000 people are unable to go home, many of them from Fukushima, due to radioactive contamination.
In northern Japan, some tsunami survivors held their own memorial events for their loved ones earlier Tuesday.
In the town of Minamisanriku, local residents gathered in front of what used to be the town's disaster prevention center, where dozens of town employees died in the tsunami. The residents prayed in front of a small table filled with flowers, a Buddha statue and incense.
A vast stretch of the town's coastal area remains deserted, except for a few structures that survived. A total of 619 people died and 217 went missing in the town of 17,666.