'Miracle Pine Tree' Removed in Tsunami-Ravaged City

Image credit: Itsuo Inouye/AP Photo

The tsunami-ravaged city of Rikuzentakata, Japan, cut down the lone pine tree that survived the disaster 18 months ago and came to symbolize hope, but there are plans to keep the preserved tree on display.

Crews began the delicate process of cutting the 270-year-old tree into nine different sections Wednesday morning, removing large branches by crane as residents looked on.

Some 70,000 pine trees dotted Rikuzentakata's waterfront before the tsunami hit in March last year, but only one survived the destructive waves. Residents called the 89-foot tree a "miracle," but the saltwater that seeped into the roots proved to be too much.

Crews plan to hollow out the tree trunk now, and insert a carbon spine inside after treating the wood. They will replace the original branches with plastic replicas, before returning the pine to its original place next February, just shy of the second anniversary of the disaster.

"This tree has had such a big role," Mayor Futoshi Toba told reporters. "Reconstruction is just beginning, and the process is a long one. This is just a temporary move."

The entire process is estimated to cost 150 million yen ($27 million), a hefty price tag considering the larger reconstruction projects the city is already tasked with. A Facebook page was launched in July, to raise money for the preservation project, and city officials said they have collected more than $330,000 so far.

Nearly 20,000 people died when the tsunami hit the Tohoku region in northeast Japan 18 months ago. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced by the disaster