Japan's tsunami-hit airport reopens

Commercial aircraft landed in Sendai on Wednesday for the first time since the city's busy airport was crippled by the powerful tsunami that smashed into Japan last month.

The opening will provide a boost to an area constrained by road closures and limited train services, which has hampered the relief effort.

A Japan Airlines (JAL) plane from Tokyo's Haneda airport touched down on the runway around 8:00 am (2300 GMT Tuesday) and was greeted by staff as it taxied towards the terminal building.

JAL and competitor All Nippon Airlines (ANA) will run six shuttle flights a day between Sendai, the largest city in the devastated northeast of Japan, and Tokyo or Osaka.

"The area was devastated and we had expected it would take time to resume services, we are delighted to achieve the early resumption thanks to the efforts by the government and the prefecture," an ANA spokeswoman said.

"Infrastructure at the airport has not been fully restored but we wanted to provide flight services to our customers as early as possible."

Hundreds of cars, several planes and even houses were washed onto the runway when the huge waves of March 11 engulfed the coast.

The terminal building was flooded and fires erupted in the car park and in aircraft hangars.

Teams of US service personnel who specialise in re-opening stricken air strips arrived at the airport a few days after the tsunami hit.

After clearing the runway of debris they began using the airport to ferry in relief supplies by C-130 Hercules transport planes.

Tomiko Yoshida, who was on the first flight said vast areas of destruction around the airport could still be seen as the plane came into land.

"I was at a loss for words seeing the devastated areas from the plane," she said, according to Kyodo.

"I would like to thank the people who restored the airport," she added.