TOKYO (AP) — Japan marked the 13th anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear meltdown and left large parts of Fukushima prefecture uninhabitable on Monday with a minute of silence and memorial events, where officials pledged continued support for rebuilding.

A 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami ravaged parts of Japan’s northeastern coast on March 11, 2011, killing about 20,000 people.

At 2:46 p.m. — the time when the earthquake struck — people across Japan stopped to observe a minute of silence. In Tokyo’s central Ginza shopping district, people stopped to pray on the sidewalk as a bell rang out, marking the moment.

Thirteen years ago, a tsunami over 15 meters (50 feet) tall slammed into the coastal Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, destroying its power supply and cooling systems, triggering meltdowns in three of its six reactors, and spewing radiation across the surrounding areas.

The disaster initially forced more than 160,000 people to leave their homes; some 20,000 are still unable to return due to radiation. Work to remove highly radioactive melted fuel debris has still not begun at the plant, were decommissioning work is expected to last decades.

At a ceremony in Fukushima prefecture, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed a pledge that the government will help secure jobs, livelihoods and the safe decommissioning of the plant so the former residents can return home.

“We will continue to do utmost for the full-fledged recovery and rebirth, as well as the recovery of the northeastern region,” he said.

Memorial events were also held in Miyagi and Iwate, prefectures north of Fukushima where most deaths from the earthquake and tsuanami took place.

In Ishinomaki City in Iwate prefecture, residents gathered at a hilltop park where many of them took shelter 13 years ago, mourning as they stood facing the sea. In another Iwate town, Rikuzentakata, about 100 people prayed atop a massive concrete seawall. In Natori, Miyagi prefecture, about 400 people prayed and released balloons carrying messages of grief.

This year’s memorial events remembers victims of the devastating quake that struck Japan’s north central region of Noto on Jan. 1, which triggered renewed calls for a review of evacuation plans nationwide, including around nuclear plants.

Kishida later told reporters that the government will do its utmost to ensure that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is decommissioned safely and transparently, citing recent mishaps including a contaminated water leak within the plant complex.

In a step the government and TEPCO say is crucial to move forward the decommissioning, the plant started releasing treated radioactive wastewater into the sea last August. The controversial discharges have faced protests by local fishers and neighboring countries — especially China, which has banned Japanese seafood imports.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said the region’s recovery process has just begun and that he is confident that it will recover.

“We will not give up,” he said. “I pledge in front of the quake and tsunami victims that we will accomplish recovery at any cost.”

While reconstruction of roads, seawalls and other infrastructure has been largely completed in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, many former residents have not returned to their hometowns due to the loss of communities.

National memorial services have not been held in Tokyo since the 10th anniversary, and municipalities in the disaster-hit areas now host local services each year.

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