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Japan struggles with clean-up

Heavy machinery removes rubble from the tsunami-devastated town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture on May 9, 2011.

Jeremy Hobson: If you can believe it the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happened three months ago tomorrow. And Toyota said this morning it now expects a 35 percent drop in annual profit as a result of the disaster.

Meanwhile the cleanup goes on in the cities and towns that were devastated as the BBC's Roland Buerk reports.


Roland Buerk: The tsunami wave flattened much of this small town on the northeast coast of Japan. Amazingly, some houses are still standing. You can see from the tide mark that the wave reached above the height of a person's head, bringing with it tons of mud, which volunteers are clearing out with spades.

Tetsuo Kimura: When I came here, I was shocked. I couldn't say anything when I first saw this scene.

Tetsuo Kimura works for JEN -- Japan Emergency NGO -- which is working to clean up thousands of houses it thinks could still be habitable.

The wreckage is being gathered up into huge piles. I'm standing next to one now. It's the same height as a three- or four-story building. A jumble of splintered wood, clothes, metal, someone's teddy bear over there. And it stretches 100 meters and more in both directions. The question now is what to do with it.

Hideyuki Katsumata's company runs Ishinomaki's garbage trucks. He's brought me to the dump that's been set up high in a valley just inland.

Buerk: How much wreckage is there?

Hideyuki Katsumata: Now it's approximately 350,000 tons.

Buerk: Three hundred fifty thousand tons.

The tsunami has left Katsumata's team with the equivalent of an entire century's worth of household rubbish to clear. And they're struggling to find space for it in the landfills created for the debris.

Katsumata: We thought that was enough for one year. But we started before one month and a half, now it is full.

Buerk: So you've filled up a place you thought would last for a year, in a month and a half?

Katsumata: Yes. Yes.

New landfill sites will have to be found. The government is urging local authorities to sort the waste so as much as possible can be recycled. But clearing out these mountains of debris will take years.

In Japan, I'm the BBC's Roland Buerk for Marketplace.

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