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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Tsunami-Hit Town Slowly Recovering

Mar. 11, 2016

Rikuzentakata, in Iwate Prefecture, was one of the communities hardest hit by the March 2011 tsunami. Five years later, the town is still coming to terms with all that was lost, and the reconstruction work remains far from complete.

On Friday, Rikuzentakata was one of the many communities in Japan that marked the anniversary of the disaster, which claimed more than 16,000 lives and left more than 2,500 missing in the Tohoku region.

The community had a population of 24,000 before the tsunami, which claimed the lives of 1,600 people there. Most of the city's central area was destroyed, and 200 people remain missing.

Officials in the town are preparing for any future tsunami by doubling the height of a coastal levee to more than 12 meters. A reconstruction project is also underway to create an area of 130 hectares that stands above 12 meters.

But only 20% of the land-building project has been completed.

The road to recovery has also been hard for local businesspeople. About 40 percent of businesses in the city have given up trying to make a go of it.

Amya Miller is a special advisor to the city of Rikuzentakata. She helped coordinate the return of a local boat that washed up on US shores after the tsunami.

Today, she helps organize a student exchange program between the two countries.

"The story is unbelievable. And it's unbelievably beautiful," Miller says. "A terrible disaster can create goodness in the form of an exchange."

Others are doing what they can to help the community. For Natsuki Yasuda, a Japanese photojournalist, that means documenting life in Rikuzentakata since the tsunami.

Yasuda has a personal connection to the town through her husband, who lost his mother in the disaster.

“My mother-in-law lived to help others until the very end, and left her spirit in this town," she says. "I’d like to keep connecting the lives of the people of this town.”