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Easter Island statue to give hope to Japan tsunami town

(L-R) Mayor of the tsunami-devastated town of Minamisanriku, Jin Sato, Japan-Chile Economic Committee chairman Mikio Sasaki (C) and Chilean Ambassador to Japan Patricio Torres join hands in front of the new "Moai" statue (back), during its preview in Tokyo on March 20, 2013. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

TOKYO: A giant statue from Chile's Easter Island was unveiled in Tokyo Wednesday before it is erected in a small tsunami-devastated northeastern Japanese town as a symbol of recovery.

The three-metre (9.8-foot) Moai statue is a gift from Chile, which pledged to supply a new statue to the fishing community of Minami Sanriku after the town's original was destroyed in the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

"It has been two years since the disaster and reconstruction has just begun," the town's mayor Jin Sato said at an unveiling ceremony.

"I want people to see this new statue and feel hope for the future."

The town's link to Chile, some 17,000 kilometres (11,000 miles) away, dates back to 1960, when a 9.5 magnitude earthquake struck the South American country and killed more than 1,600 people.

The quake also sent a tsunami hurtling across the Pacific to Japan, where it claimed 142 lives -- more than a quarter of them in Minami Sanriku.

Decades later, after a visit from the Chilean ambassador, the Japanese town marked the connection by installing a replica Moai statue in a coastal park which local residents named Chile Plaza.

When the huge tsunami waves again swamped Minami Sanriku two years ago, the statue was toppled along with hundreds of buildings and the head was knocked off.

About 800 people were killed or missing in the once picturesque town, among nearly 19,000 people nationwide.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera promised a "bigger, more magnificent and more beautiful" statue after visiting the community following the 2011 disaster.

Hundreds of human figures -- some as tall as several metres and carved up to 750 years ago -- stand in groups on Easter Island off the coast of Chile. Details such as how they were transported and raised remain a mystery.

The new statue -- an original, not a replica like its predecessor -- will be exhibited in Tokyo and Osaka before arriving in Minami Sanriku in May.

 

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