1 year later, Japan pauses to remember earthquake, tsunami

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Story highlights

  • A powerful 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck northeast Japan on March 11, 2011
  • It unleashed a massive tsunami and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years
  • A moment of silence will be held at the exact moment the quake hit
  • Prime minister says "steady progress" is being made on cleanup and reconstruction efforts

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.

Read iReporters' reflections on the anniversary

"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.

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    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.

    Read what the Fukushima accident did to the ocean

    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.

    Read about the 'low-tech' disaster cleanup

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

        2011: Japan tsunami video

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        Watch as a powerful tsunami -- triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake -- sweeps into cities off the Japanese coast.
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        Video captured the exact moment that a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011.
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        CNN flashes back to the week immediately following the Japan tsunami. Hear what reporters and eyewitnesses had to say.
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