Billions for Japan tsunami recovery went elsewhere, reports find

Japan  reconstruction
TADANOUMI, Japan -- Billions of dollars meant to help Japan recover from its devastating tsunami went to government projects that had little or nothing to do with the disaster, a new spending review shows.

Japanese politicians have questioned why millions went to a factory that makes contact lenses, or why money was spent to fend off  environmental activists opposed to whaling, or other projects in areas far removed from the tsunami. Local media have dug up numerous  examples of dubious spending, from renovating government buildings outside the disaster zones to job training in  prisons.

All in all, government documents show roughly one out of every four dollars budgeted for reconstruction went to unrelated projects, and more than half has not been allocated at all, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. An outside analysis by recovery expert Yoshimitsu Shiozaki found the same pattern of spending on projects outside the disaster zones.

PHOTOS: Japan hit by magnitude 9.0 earthquake

The funds were originally earmarked solely for the stricken areas, but the government ultimately loosened the rules, saying the money could also be used to bolster the economy and prepare for future disasters nationwide. The reconstruction money was up for grabs at a time when government agencies were downsizing, making it a tempting spigot of cash.

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Six videos of the Japanese tsunami [Video]

Tsunamiwave

Nearly a year ago, Japan was struck by a massive earthquake that unleashed a terrifying tsunami on the coast. The disaster killed an estimated 19,000 people and destroyed more than 120,000 buildings.

As it approaches the anniversary of the quake on Sunday, the country is still recovering from the devastating event, left stalled at the cleanup stage, Christopher Hawthorne reports for The Times.

Politicians and architects disagree over whether to rebuild fishing villages that were already dwindling in numbers or to consolidate them. Ugly truths about Japanese poverty have been laid bare.

As Japan grapples with what to do next, we look back at the day the disaster struck the country. When the tsunami hit, it was captured on camera not just by news crews but by ordinary people whose eyewitness footage showed what the disaster was like on the ground.

To remind us of the sheer enormity of this disaster, here are six videos of the tsunami -- from the air, from the ground and even from inside a car. 

In the first video, people flee on foot as the tsunami sweeps into their neighborhood, sending buses and cars barreling toward them. The person behind the camera bolts:

The water rises relentlessly in this video, streaming past the camera, until it grows so powerful that it carries a small building away:

This is what the tsunami looked like from inside a car. The car slowly begins to bob among a mounting stream of debris, at one point colliding with another occupied vehicle. At the very end, a wave appears to splash over the car:

This footage of a black wave of water pouring over a seawall was widely used in news reports, showing the power of the tsunami:

People walking on the street panic and run as the water begins pouring into their town, sometimes stopping to gawk at the deluge before turning to flee again. The person filming the video makes it to the top of a tall building to look out at the wreckage swirling below:

This footage from Channel 4 News in Britain shows the tsunami pouring into the port town of Miyako City, creating a churning mass of debris:

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles 

Photo: Waves overwhelm a levee at a seaside village near the mouth of the Hei River in Japan on March 11, 2011. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency / AFLO / Mainichi Newspaper 


Japanese tsunami debris: Where is it headed?

Tsunamidebris2

After a devastating tsunami hit Japan last year, where did all the things that were carried out to sea go?

Scientists Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the International Pacific Research Center created this mesmerizing computer model to show where ocean currents and winds were likely to carry the debris.

The swirling purple cloud in the model shows where the objects swept into the ocean could end up. It shows tsunami debris just barely reaching the Midway Islands in the Pacific this month, if the model proves correct. As of January, the tsunami debris was still short of the islands because of a current pushing northeast.

Tsunami debris has already been popping up in other places that the scientists predicted. In October, a Russian ship heading from Honolulu to Vladivostok spotted a television set, a refrigerator and even a 20-foot-long Japanese fishing boat from the Fukushima prefecture, the area hit hardest by the tsunami.

The scientists have stressed that there isn't a mass of trash headed for Hawaii: Though the Japanese government estimated that the enormous earthquake and ensuing tsunami created 25 million tons of rubble, some of the debris never got into the ocean in the first place, much of it is likely to sink, and much will join the North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area where trash loosely collects in the ocean.

Though the media have widely reported that "25 million tons" of tsunami debris are drifting across the Pacific, Maximenko and Hafner said there is no scientific way to know how much is actually out there.Tsunamidebris
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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Kesennuma harbor was destroyed, the town burned and a large ship was deposited on the dock. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times


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