Tens of thousands of people saw the Olympic flame in the northeastern Japanese city, despite concerns about the corona virus pandemic, local media reported yesterday.

More than 55,000 people flocked to a cauldron with the flame, which was displayed at Sendai Station in Sendai on Saturday, the day after the flame arrived in Miyagi Prefecture, the local newspaper Kahoku Shimpo reported, despite the government repeating the public urged large gatherings to avoid this, to prevent the spread of the novel corona virus.

Tokyo organizers call it the “flame of recovery” because the northeastern region has taken nine years to rebuild since being destroyed by the 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

The natural disasters also caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The tsunami devastated the coastal region of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, leaving around 18,400 dead or missing.

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A 52-year-old part-time worker told the newspaper, even though she had been standing by the flame for two hours, “I actually enjoyed waiting for it.”

When I saw the flame, “I felt like I was in a big event like the Olympics,” she added.

About nine years ago, during the blackout, more than 10,000 people gathered around the same station and spent the restless nights after the tsunami, the newspaper said.

An 80-year-old housewife in Sendai City was quoted by Kahoku Shimpo as saying that she would not be able to return home soon after the tsunami nine years ago, but “I am now so pleased to see a warming Olympic flame.”

The crowd on Saturday in Sendai was in stark contrast to a reduced ceremony in the city of Higashi-Matsushima the day before, when the flame arrived from Greece.

The organizers of the Tokyo Olympic Games held the event without spectators and decided not to allow around 200 school children to participate.

On Thursday, March 26, a weakened torch relay will begin in Fukushima Prefecture, the site of Japan’s worst nuclear disaster.

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