Japanese Tsunami Survivors: Then and Now

A Look Back at the Survivors on the Day of the Disaster and Where They are Now

March 5, 2012— -- intro: On March 11, 2011, the world stood still as the people of Japan were pummeled by natural disaster -- an 8.9 magnitude earthquake followed by a massive tsunami. Together they killed over 15,000 people and triggered a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

A year later, ABC News caught up with seven men and women who survived the crisis. These are their stories.

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title: Katsuhiko Asano, Insurance Salesman

text: Diane Sawyer interviewed Katsuhiko Asano, an insurance salesman, outside his home in the Sendai area of Japan on March 14, 2011, just days after the earthquake and tsunami. At the time, he wasn't sure if his family was alive.

One year later, Asano stood outside his home and business, and told ABC News that the days after the disaster were still a blur. He said his family had survived.

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title: Yuko Sugimoto, Determined Mother

text: Twenty-eight year old Yuko Sugimoto was photographed two days after the earthquake, wrapped in a blanket, searching for her 4-year-old son in Ishinomaki, Japan. This iconic photo was featured in dozens of newspapers around the world and became a symbol of the tragedy in Japan.

A year later, Sugimoto was photographed on the same bridge. Her son, Raito, was safe. "Now, every single day is precious to me," she says.

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title: Teppei Kajika, Japanese Metal Band Leader

text: Diane Sawyer interviewed Teppei Kajika, the 21-year-old leader of a Japanese metal band, as he road his bike around the Sendai area, helping survivors of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

One year later, Kajika is back in the recording studio in Sendai. Kajika's latest music includes a song protesting the actions of Tepco, the owner of the Fukushima nuclear plant. Kajika says the disaster taught him not always to trust what his government tells him.

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title: Saki Hoshi, Hotel Owner

text: Seventy-two year-old Saki Hoshi described the height of the tsunami waters to Diane Sawyer on March 14, 2011. Hoshi's small hotel outside Sendai was heavily damaged by the tsunami.

A year later, Hoshi stands outside her hotel. She says that while the dirt and mud have been removed, the area is still not back to normal. She is still waiting to hire carpenters to repair the downstairs of her business. Mud still marks the walls inside, showing the tsunami waters that reached five feet.

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title: Yukie Kanno

text: Yukie Kanno held her newborn son Rei, six days after the earthquake and tsunami. Kanno's husband Takeshi, a doctor, was trapped for days in a destroyed hospital in Minamisanriku, Japan, but made it to Sendai in time to witness his son's birth.

One year later, Kanno holds Rei for the camera. His name means "wisdom" in Japanese. He is now learning to walk.

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title: Katsunobu Sakurai, Mayor of Minamisoma, Japan

text: Minamisoma mayor Katsunobu Sakurai made a desperate plea for help on YouTube in the days after the 2011 disaster. Sakurai's 11-minute video blasted the government for abanonding the residents of the town, which is just 15 miles from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

A year later, a third of the town is still off-limits, located inside the nuclear exclusion zone. Sakurai tells ABC News he is still filled with rage.

"We can't just give up," he says. "We need to continue speaking out, and continue to try and influence the government's decision making."

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title: The Kuehnert Family

text: American Marty Kuehnert, his wife Kyoko and their daughter Vivian documented their escape from Sendai for "Nightline" in the days after the earthquake. The family fled Sendai after fears of a meltdown at the Fukushima plant.

The Kuehnerts have since returned to Sendai. Marty, who is an executive for the Rocks & Eagles Baseball Team and a vice president at the University of Sendai, says he can't imagine life in another place.

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