Updated: Sat, 25 May 2013 09:04:46 GMT | By Agence France-Presse

Easter Island statue erected in Japan tsunami town

A giant statue from Chile's Easter Island on Saturday found a new home in a small tsunami-devastated Japanese town where it will become a symbol for its recovery.

Easter Island statue erected in Japan tsunami town

Japanese high school students and carvers from Chile pose with a new "Moai" statue, modelled on the mysterious carvings at Easter Island, in the tsunami-devastated town of Minami Sanriku on May 25, 2013.

The new statue, with coral eyes and a stone hat, was erected near the town's shopping area, where makeshift stores now operate after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed almost the entire town.

The three-metre (10-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 disaster.

"We can see the Moai in this town every day from now," said mayor Jin Sato, quoted by Jiji Press news agency.

"It will be a big symbol for the recovery."

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 its head was knocked off.

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

After Chilean President Sebastian Pinera promised a "bigger, more magnificent and more beautiful" statue, the new Moai arrived in Japan on Christmas day last year.

It was exhibited in Tokyo and Osaka before being officially handed over to Minami Sanriku on Saturday.

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