Japan's Recovery: Tsunami One Year Later

"Nightline's" Bill Weir travels back to report on the dire nuclear situation.
4:14 | 03/09/12

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Transcript for Japan's Recovery: Tsunami One Year Later
Japan was rattled again today when a magnitude five point four quake struck that seismic nation damaging mostly nerves. But that is no small thing in a place still traumatized by the real life disaster film that began a year ago Sunday. To see how our allies coping after the quake the killer wave the nuclear meltdowns I went back to Japan this week. And found a place that people profoundly changed. Our coverage of tsunami. One year later. It was a Friday afternoon. Schools were about to let out office workers think about the weekend heading for the trains. And then again. -- But he felt the first Robles -- lights begins flying some shrubs some thought it's just another way. Because in Japan little rattling as part of daily life. In fact here's the seismic activity leading up to that fateful day each red circle indicates a tremor bigger the circle the bigger the magnitude. But watch what happened on March 11246. PM. The big 19. As the -- -- its people have long stopped shrugging and many on the coast began running driven by some. From a helicopter look like spilled -- crossing the Green table slow motion. -- the camera which is and you realize that soup is made from houses and cars and -- community. High ground -- was the difference between life and death. -- okay. -- And you later at sea water has receded. The shock has not it takes your breath away to see -- Stolen outlines where there once houses to see this -- -- -- graveyard. Twisted bits of medal showing the power that way. They found 11100 bodies in this one town. But they're actually more fortunate than most because there's a lot of towns up and down the coast. -- families are still looking. In some places the transformation is incredible. The big city of Sendai if you know what happened here you wouldn't know what happened. But this is deceiving because only 5% 250 million tons of debris has been permanently remove. In some places -- distorted it in the massive piles some coastal towns are still debating whether to rebuild at all. Well in others the pain is still -- -- ground to -- Michael Powell elementary school. Some teachers wanted to. Head for that -- others thought that was too steep and that bridge would be a better place to ride it out. While they stood in this yard. With these children in their slippers. Debating the wave ripped through this valley. At about thirty feet high. 74. Kids and ten teachers were swept away. But for every sale of -- there are many more stories of survival. And waiting patiently outside is this heartbreaking -- A year ago we saw an endless line outside the only functional hospital. -- -- -- People were hoping for proof of life hoping just to see the name of a loved one on a list while on a bridge nearby -- you go should be moto. Desperately searching for her four year old son. When this photograph -- newspapers around the world she became a face for nation's pain and while it took three days. She found him scared but -- I felt numb she tells me all feeling left my body because those -- relieved to finally see him. Now every single day is precious to me. -- And Takeshi Congo the Doctor Who was trapped for days while his wife prepared for labor miles away he made it -- -- -- To see the birth of their -- And little -- -- -- -- -- -- course -- on the wreckage and debris the spike in suicides and ghost sightings. There's an invisible remnant of this disaster in the form of radiation after the triple meltdown at Fukushima. Do -- -- -- ex -- sixty miles from the plant a Geiger counter picks up Trace amounts of radiation and soil in the trees. And the detector outside the train station is a constant reminder of the new normal. Tainted water and food has been found as far as 200 miles from the plant but there have been no reports of radiation sickness. Yet. Japanese government some outside experts predict the long term effects will be minimal. But no one is sure whether to believe that after a sweeping investigation found that the government and the plant's operator teppco downplay the crisis publicly. While privately they were so under prepared and overwhelmed they considered evacuating Tokyo. You trust -- the government. Tells you about radiation levels. It's not just the government she says even among nuclear experts have different opinions. We just don't know how to process -- all what's dangerous what is. Meanwhile in nearby quarry on local mothers demanded an indoor parks kids like -- Radiation -- playground. I don't want to stay inside. At least get outside maybe thirty minutes today and thirty minutes a week. You see why health experts from around the world -- more people -- -- stress related illness. The radiation. A year ago we were all struck by how the Japanese kept their legendary order amid such -- patient peacefully lining up for food and gas. The crisis -- record and a. Not knowing any definitely. American Express Marty -- showed it to us as the GM of a professional baseball team here evacuated -- when his wife and daughter. But he tells me that while Japanese people never dreamed of questioning authority during the crisis they are now there's an expression and Japanese culture -- the -- and I. At that -- which means it can't be helped stuff happens here. I am so this happened. And you might it be happy with what happened what you gotta put up -- that most people are are upset with if not fed up with the government. And don't believe a lot of what they're sent but there's still this resolved to go forward and go on. And we are surrounded by the proof of that effort. This auditorium is just one of many around the disaster zone filled with family -- Pulled from the tsunami much. Carefully cleaned and organized on the off chance their owners survive on the off chance that one -- -- in trying to piece of the life. -- was washed away. One little memory to add to the new lives. Still under construction.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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