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Hokkaido islanders pray for victims on 25th anniv. of big quake

People pray at a cenotaph on Okushiri Island off the coast of Hokkaido, on July 12, 2018, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake and tsunami that left a total of 230 people dead or missing in the northern Japan prefectures of Hokkaido and Aomori. (Kyodo)

OKUSHIRI ISLAND, Japan (Kyodo) -- Local people on a small island off the coast of Hokkaido paid tribute Thursday to more than 200 victims of a deadly earthquake and subsequent tsunami a quarter of a century ago.

On Okushiri Island, where 198 people were killed or went missing, their relatives and local residents had a moment of silence when a siren blared across the community through its public loudspeaker system at 10:17 a.m., half a day before the time the magnitude 7.8 quake occurred on July 12, 1993.

In the evening, the islanders floated lanterns in the sea and lit 1,000 candles near a cenotaph for the victims.

The quake and tsunami left a total of 230 people dead or missing in Hokkaido and Aomori prefectures.

The 143-square-kilometer island in the Sea of Japan off the western part of Hokkaido was the hardest hit by the natural disaster and fire razed hundreds of houses.

"I'm most worried about memories of the tragedy being lost," said Toru Kodera, a 48-year-old male office worker, one of those who lost their homes.

Since the tsunami killed his father, mother and 14-year-old younger brother, and left his grandmother missing presumed dead, Kodera had avoided telling others about his painful memories.

But he changed his mind after the massive and tsunami in March 2011 that devastated northeastern Japan and left more than 18,000 people dead or missing.

"You had to leave with only the clothes on your back and escape to a high place as fast as you could, without thinking of taking valuables," Kodera said he often tells visitors from outside the island when asked about the 1993 catastrophe.

Okushiri's local government has not held an official memorial ceremony for the victims since 2013, when the 20th anniversary of the disaster was marked, citing financial difficulties. But each district's association of bereaved families has continued with memorial services for those who lost their lives.

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