Tsunami-hit town gets 6-ton Christmas gift

2012-12-25 08:52

A small Japanese town devastated by last year’s quake-sparked tsunami will receive a huge Christmas present after a ship arrived in Tokyo today carrying a six-ton statue destined for the community.

The giant present crossed the ocean from Chile which had pledged to supply a new statue – modelled on the mysterious carvings at Easter Island – to Minami Sanriku’s tiny fishing community after the town’s original was destroyed in last year’s quake-sparked tsunami disaster.

The five-metre Moai statue arrived in the Japanese capital about a month after leaving Chile.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera had promised a “bigger, more magnificent and more beautiful” statue after visiting the community following the March 2011 disaster.

The town’s connection with Chile, some 17 000 kilometres away, dates from 1960, when a 9.5 magnitude earthquake struck the South American country.

More than 1 600 people were killed in Chile and two million left homeless, but the quake also sent a tsunami hurtling across the Pacific to Japan, where it claimed 142 lives, more than a quarter of them in Minami Sanriku.

Decades later, the countries celebrated their recovery, and after a visit from the Chilean ambassador to Japan, Minami Sanriku set up the replica Moai statue in a coastal park, which local residents named Chile Plaza.

“People loved the statue,” mayor Jin Sato said earlier this year. “It was a symbol of recovery.”

The Moai are mysterious human figures found on Easter Island off the coast of Chile, where hundreds of enormous figures – some as tall as several metres – still stand in groups.

Ancient islanders are believed to have built the figures, but details such as how they raised the huge stones are unknown.

When last year’s huge tsunami waves swamped the Japanese town, the statue, like hundreds of buildings in the community, was toppled, its two-metre head knocked off its body.

“I hope this Moai statue will help not only children but the whole Minami Sanriku town to recover – it’s such a great Christmas gift,” said Yasunori Mogi (30) a teacher at the local high school where the old statue’s head now sits.

Much of the community’s infrastructure and most of its economy was wiped out when the towering waves swept ashore, killing about 19 000 people along this once picturesque coast.

The new statue will be exhibited in Tokyo and Osaka from March and is expected to arrive in Minami Sanriku in May.

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