Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux

One Year After the Tsunami

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    Photographer James Whitlow Delano visited the area near the Fukushima Power Plant that was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, to document how the landscape has changed. This area was once a great pine forest of 70,000 trees that covered the oceanfront at Takata Matsubara in Japan until the tsunami swept through, decimating them all. Now, in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, the sea undercuts the roots beneath their stumps, giving them an otherworldly appearance.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    A cow and her calf, unseen, are housed in a barn in front of a barrier to the Fukushima nuclear no-entry zone. The borderline for the territory is too contaminated for human habitation, yet cattle are raised here, and their milk, exposed to the contaminated winds and dust, may be sold on the market as long as their feed comes from outside the region and is not contaminated. Hay is covered to protect it from the rain, but the entire area is surrounded by land contaminated with radioactive cesium. On Aug. 25, 2011, the Japanese government lifted a ban on shipping beef from Fukushima Prefecture. There is no guarantee that the meat of any animal from this farm will be randomly tested for radiation.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    Twilight on a highway through the ruins in the tsunami zone of Otsuchi.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    Sea water bubbles up from below a street in the port district of Kesenuma, which floods during every high tide because Japan's Tohoku coastline subsided more than three feet after the earthquake and tsunami. One of the legacies of the disaster is that port districts and vast coastal rice-growing regions are salinated from daily tidal flooding.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    Barren, tsunami-devastated Rikuzen-Takata Prefecture, meets a sliver of shiny sea. Residents probably will never return to this exposed lowland site wiped out by the tsunami, but development plans are difficult because this open space is a patchwork of private property, some belonging to those who perished in the disaster.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    Oversize semi-permanent sandbags keep cleared road in Ofunato free from seawater that oozes up in this port district with every high tide because the land has subsided almost 1 meter (3.28 feet). The earthquake and tsunami destroyed the port area, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. One year earlier, this road was completely obsured by tsunami debris. The subsiding of the Tohoku coastline may be one of the biggest post-disaster challenges facing coastal communities.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    Debris has piled up against a cracked tsunami wall that failed in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture. Almost every city in the tsunami zone has piles of tsunami debris, usually piled up in the port areas, as there is nowhere else to put it. Cities outside the region are, for the most part, unwilling to take any of the debris and dispose of it because of fears of radiation—even if the debris comes from an area far from the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear power plant and does not show elevated levels of radiation.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    The massive tsunami wall at Toni, Iwate Prefecture, could not contain the storm. The neighborhood behind it was totally destroyed.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    Someone propped a monument statue back up on a pile of shattered tombstones in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    Seeds, that will never be sold, hang in a shop in the extended nuclear evacuation zone in Tsushima, Fukushima Prefecture, one of the most irradiated villages in the prefecture. Residents were forced to evacuate their village after a wind-driven radioactive cloud from an explosion at Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear power plant directly hit the valley. 

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    One year later, unclaimed boats almost camouflaged in a dusting of snow sit in a salinated rice field near Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux
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    One year after the black tsunami, a handful of strong buildings that withstood the catastrophe are all that remain of central Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. Because these devastated areas are private property, and most port areas subsided almost 1 meter (3.28 feet) because of the earthquake, no grand plan has emerged to rebuild the most vulnerable inhabited areas in town.

    Photograph by James Whitlow Delano/Redux