Tokyo (CNN) -- Japan gathered Sunday amid tears, prayers and a moment of silence to mark one year since a massive earthquake and tsunami killed thousands and triggered a nuclear crisis.
Throngs nationwide observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. ET), the exact time the earth shook on March 11, 2011.
The 9.0-magnitude quake literally shifted the earth's axis and unleashed a wall of water that swept away lives, homes and sent millions of people fleeing for higher ground.
Nearly 16,000 people died and 3,000 others remain missing.
Later Sunday, citizens will continue to mark the anniversary across the country, with a main ceremony at the New National Theatre in Tokyo. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to attend and offer remarks.
He recently addressed rebuilding efforts, which represent Japan's greatest challenge since the end of World War II. Total damage is estimated at about 25 million yen, or roughly $300 billion so far.
"The Japanese people are united in working with the government to put all our might towards working on the reconstruction," Noda said this month. "The debris cleanup, the building of temporary houses and daily support for the disaster victims -- we have been making steady progress on all those issues," he said.
Following the quake and tsunami, Japan found itself dealing with the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility was knocked offline, resulting in a meltdown of three reactors, with radiation leaking into the air and contaminated water spilling into the sea. While no deaths were attributed to the nuclear disaster, more than 100,000 people remain displaced from the towns where its long-lived fallout settled.
One year on, Japan is far from dug out of the destruction wrought by the triple disaster, but the prime minister said he is committed to rebuilding and emerging as a strengthened nation.
"I would like to accelerate the reconstruction and by doing so energize Japan as well," Noda said.
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