TODAY   |  March 09, 2012

Japanese tsunami: One year later

Nearly one year after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan, stunning images show what the hardest hit areas looked like then and now. NBC's Ian Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> cleanup and recovery in japan nearly a year after the earthquake and tsunami that rocked that country. we are seeing stunning images of what the hardest hit areas looked like then and now. ian williams has the latest. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, ann. communities all along this devastated coast are marking the anniversary with sadness, but also with a determination to rebuild their lives. never has the natural disaster been so well documented in all its raw horror. this was the ter fieg moment the tsunami crashed into the fishing port of kesenumma. a year later and this is the same intersection. much of the town was reduced to twisted piles of debris which largely have been cleared now, leaving a barren wasteland. it's a similar scene along the coast where almost 20,000 people are gone. this was sendai airport last year and this is today.

>> you see the debris mountain.

>> reporter: the remains of towns have been scooped up and piled into vast mountains which will take years to get rid of. the tsunami generated the equivalent of 19 years of trash in the worst areas. over half a million buildings were destroyed or damaged. the government wants to spread the debris across the country. so far, only three areas have volunteered to take any. in the meantime, the mountains just get bigger. survivors live in temporary homes. there is no blueprint for rebuilding yet. few towns were hit harder than minamisanriku where water funneled down the valley. 80% of the fishing fleet was destroyed. for the first time since the disaster, boats are back at sea farming seaweed for which the town was famous. that's been made possible by new processing gear under a project supported by the u.s. charity mercy corps which created jobs for 200 people. [ speaking in a foreign language ]

>> reporter: it's a start, hiroko told me. she lost her husband and her home in the tsunami.

>> it's going to take a long time to rebuild. but i think what we see now a year later is just a really resilient community that's coming back together again.

>> reporter: a community determined to rebuild their lives. as they plan for the future, perhaps the most important asset they have here is the incredible spirit of the people who lived