Where once there was only debris and destruction, and then a year later a cleared but barren landscape, now there is fresh earth. Tons of it, covering areas where roads and building foundations once stood, as if to obliterate the past.

A steady stream of trucks is bringing soil and construction materials to towns along Japan's northeast coast, destroyed by a tsunami of historic proportions on March 11, 2011. It is a massive undertaking to raise the ground level of entire neighborhoods, to better protect them from inundation, before rebuilding from scratch.

Five years after the disaster, construction work is clearly underway but far from done. Rebuilt roads stretch to the horizon between still largely vacant expanses.

Fishing is the lifeblood of many of these seaside communities, and there are signs of life as new piers and fish processing and refrigeration facilities go up. The progress seems slower in residential areas.

Five years ago, something caught my eye on the side of the road in the deserted city of Onagawa, amid the volunteers, soldiers, rescue workers and others searching and cleaning up: A Japanese flag, dingy and flapping in the wind, in the middle of the debris.

The debris is long gone, and with it, the flag. In their place, the flattened city is literally rising, as trucks arrive with more soil, leveled by bulldozers into a hoped-for foundation for the future.

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AP photographer Eugene Hoshiko returned to northern Japan this week to record what has changed in the five years since the 2011 tsunami killed more than 18,000 people and wiped coastal communities off the map.

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