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Ofunato Survivors
The day after the earthquake and tsunami rescuers found 870 people in one elementary school in Sendai and were trying to reach 1,200 people in the junior high school, closer to the water. There was no electricity and no water for people in shelters. According to a newspaper, the Mainichi Shimbun, about 600 people were on the roof of a public grade school, in Sendai City. By Saturday morning, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and firefighters had evacuated about 150 of them. [Source: New York Times]

On the rooftop of Chuo Hospital in the city of Iwanuma, doctors and nurses were waving white flags and pink umbrellas, according to TV Asahi. On the floor of the roof, they wrote “Help” in English, and “Food” in Japanese. The reporter, observing the scene from a helicopter, said, “If anyone in the City Hall office is watching, please help them.” The station also showed scenes of people stranded on a bridge, cut off by water on both sides near the mouth of the Abukuma River in Miyagi Prefecture. On Twitter, a person who used the name sinonosama said that students at an agricultural high school in Miyagi Prefecture were fine, but had to take refuge on the third floor after the tsunami flooded the first two floors.

People were frantically searching for their relatives. Fumiaki Yamato, 70, was in his second home in a mountain village outside of Sendai when the earthquake struck. He spoke from his car as he was driving toward Sendai trying to find the rest of his family. While it usually takes about an hour to drive to the city, parts of the road were impassable. “I’m getting worried,” he said as he pulled over to take a reporter’s call. “I don’t know how many hours it’s going to take.”

In another heart-rendering story broadcast on CBS’s Sixty Minutes a teacher who survived a tsunami — that climbed two stories inside a gymnasium he and his students were told to evacuate to — made it to safety by standing on basketball backboard rim and scrambling to a balcony and then was able to grab some students in the swirling black waters and pull them to safety but watched as many more children float by out of reach. Most of the students who evacuated to the gymnasium died.

'Miracle of Kamaishi'

Although Kamaishi was struck by the catastrophic tsunami on March 11, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, the great majority of the 3,000 primary and middle school students in the city fled to safety and were physically unhurt. Many children decided on their own that it would be risky to take shelter at designated evacuation sites, and instead made a beeline for higher ground to escape the oncoming tsunami. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 10, 2011]

For the last seven years, schools in Kamaishi have taught their students the basics of evacuation by inviting experts in disaster management as advisers to speak to the children. The golden rules drilled into the children were "Don't trust assumptions about disasters" and "Put yourself first and flee." The schools also incorporated content about disasters in each subject. One question in a mathematics class on velocity asked students to think about the speed at which a tsunami would reach the coast. The accumulation of these efforts resulted in the students swiftly evacuating in what has widely been referred to as "the miracle of Kamaishi."

Other ingenious methods have been employed elsewhere. In some places, children heard from elderly local people who experienced massive earthquakes in the past, while others drew antidisaster maps highlighting vulnerable areas by examining geographical features of their neighborhood. Some school athletic meets included bucket relay races and contests to build makeshift stretchers. These antidisaster education activities, however, have been held only in some regions, rather than nationwide.

Many Tsunami Survivors Didn’t Evacuate Immediately and Fled by Car

More than 40 percent of survivors of the tsunami did not evacuate immediately after the quake as they searched for family members or went home, a central governmental report on the disaster released in August 2011 revealed. According to survey 361 of the 870 people interviewed said they did not evacuate immediately, with 22 percent of the 361 people saying they went home, 21 percent said they went to look for family members or pick them up, and 11 percent said they were not concerned about tsunami as they had not experienced them in past quakes. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun August 18, 2011]

The report also said 857 of the respondents ultimately evacuated and 485 of them fled by car.(The Fire and Disaster Management Agency instructs people to evacuate on foot in cases of tsunami) Of those who evacuated by car, 34 percent said they thought they had to do so to survive and 32 percent said they wanted to evacuate with family members. Thirty-four percent said they got caught in heavy traffic jams.

Despite authorities' advice to escape on foot, about half of the residents of Kesennuma fled by car. According to the survey, 46 percent of residents evacuated on foot, 45 percent by car and 6 percent initially left by car but walked part of the way. It was reasoned people probably jumped into their cars because they wanted to escape as quickly as possible. Cars were also necessary to evacuate elderly people and children, and some evacuation sites were a fair distance away. During the search and rescue after the tsunami a number of bodies were found in cars inundated by the tsunami. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun August 18, 2011]

Asked how they received evacuation orders on the day of the disaster, 54 percent of Kesennuma residents said they got them through the local administration's disaster-prevention wireless system; 9 percent from the radio; 6 percent from cell phones; 3 percent from TV and 17 percent said they did not hear any warning.

Among the four districts in Kesennuma, 34 percent of people living in the Motoyoshi district said they did not hear any warning. The municipal government had set up receivers in houses in areas with poor wireless reception. However, some of these receivers may not have worked due to a power outage or because they became disconnected.

"Actions taken by individuals need to be analyzed," Kansai University Prof. Yoshiaki Kawata, head of the expert panel of the government's Central Disaster Management Council, said at a press conference. He cited the traditional evacuation philosophy of "tsunami tendenko" in areas frequently hit by tsunami, which advises people to run to high places individually without thinking about family members, friends or neighbors."It's difficult for many old people to evacuate on foot and, in our graying society, evacuation rules have to be made by individual communities taking this into consideration," he added.

Survivor Stories from the March 2011 Tsunami

In Miyako, 57-year-old Chofuku Ishisone had been laying the groundwork a new convenience store. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, “He met the oncoming tsunami just after 3 p.m. on the day as he was driving to another convenience store he manages in the city. He got out of his car, but was soon up to his neck in water. He grabbed a handgrip on a nearby traffic signal, climbed it and made his way to a utility pole, narrowly escaping being swept away. He stayed perched on the utility pole in front of the Miyako City Hall for about three hours. Just after 6 p.m., a city official yelled at him, "Get out of there before it gets dark!" So he swam to a nearby branch office of the city hall and then fled to an evacuation shelter on a hill. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2011]

Hiroaki Nakamura, a city official in charge of public relations who was on the sixth floor of the city hall when the tsunami hit, snapped several photos of Ishisone clinging to the traffic light and making his way over to the utility pole. "I pointed my camera at him so I could have a visual record of the tragedy," Nakamura said. "I wanted to help him but I couldn't get anywhere close. I was frustrated so I just focused on pressing the shutter button."

Volunteer firefighter Takashi Oguni miraculously survived after being swept two kilometers by the water. Soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Oguni went to a breakwater guarding the town to check for tsunami. As the waves in the distance came closer, Oguni ran back to a fire engine parked on the road below. The other four members of his squad were supposed to be there waiting for him, but they had gone into a nearby house to carry a bedridden woman upstairs to what they assumed would be a safe place. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2011]

Oguni, 43, ran to the house to warn them of the approaching tsunami. "I knew we were in danger," he said. "But there was no way I could leave them there and just get out on my own." However, the massive tsunami poured over the breakwater and engulfed the house in an instant. The dark, muddy water ensnared Oguni and his team. As he started to lose consciousness, all he could think about was mundane matters such as, "What will happen to my mortgage payments [if I die]?" Oguni regained consciousness after being swept to a national road two kilometers away. He was the only member of his firefighting squad to survive.

One female student wrote to the troubleshooter column in the Yomiuri Shimbun confessed, “That day, I tried to escape with my grandmother as the earthquake and tsunami hit our town. But at one point she sat down and said she couldn't run anymore. I wanted to carry her, but she firmly refused, and angrily told me, "Go, go!" I ran away alone, apologizing for leaving her. Three days later, her body was found some distance from where we had separated. Grandma was a graceful and gentle person, and I admired her greatly. But in the end, her body was left lying on the floor of a gymnasium like a fish at the market. It was as if her dignity as a human had been totally neglected. Although I could've saved her, I abandoned her to her fate and fled alone.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 3, 2011]

Rescue After the Tsunami in Kesennuma

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Damage in Ofunato
Reporting from Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, Keiichi Nakane wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “When the tsunami lost its momentum at about 6 p.m., I went down inside the third floor with the residents for shelter from the cold. The 450 evacuees split into four rooms--a storeroom, a cooking room, a conference room and a corridor--to pass the night. I was among about 100 people who stayed in the storeroom. We huddled up and pressed our bodies together. One reason was because of the cold, but the other reason was more simple--there was no space to stretch our legs or keep any distance from each other.” [Source: Keiichi Nakane, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2011]

We found blankets stored for an emergency, sharing one between three or four people. We cut up cardboard to put on the concrete floor, but most people did not get a piece. I sat on some documents I had received the day before from a person I had interviewed. Some people slept standing up because the floor was so cold. During the night, I once again went to the rooftop. The water surrounding the building was burning here and there--oil patches had caught fire. The scene was surreal. I felt I was watching a science fiction movie. I went to a bathroom and found that all the toilets were covered with rubble. I had to relieve myself in the stairwell.

The building was repeatedly hit by aftershocks, which woke me every hour. I was anxious about the possibility of the old building collapsing. My gnawing anxiety was relieved by ordinary small talk I had with a woman who sat next to me. "Where are you from? Chiba? That's really far away...I'm sure your parents are really worrying about you," the 56-year-old woman said. I had just met her for the first time, but talking with the woman, who was of an age similar to my mother, made me relax.

By Saturday morning, the water level had fallen to the ceiling of the first floor. There were various things floating on the water--cars, frozen bonito and saury that apparently had come from warehouses. Suddenly, something floating by caught my eye--was it a branch or a human arm? I instinctively shut my eyes. At 9:40 a.m., a rescue helicopter of the Tokyo Fire Department arrived, and began picking up people one by one with a rope. An Air Self-Defense helicopter joined in the afternoon, but the helicopters were able to rescue only about 50 people that day.

Dinner on the second day was a piece of a biscuit. The 400 people still in the center had to share only a couple of bottles of water that had been delivered by the helicopters. I gave my allocated water to an elderly person who was showing signs of dehydration.Our stress levels seemed to have reached a peak when, at about 6 a.m. on the third day, we found that the water outside had receded. Soon, three helicopters from the Tokyo Fire Department and SDF landed one by one on the square in front of the community center and shuttled people out. After the sick people, children and the elderly had been transported, I boarded a helicopter. At about 10 a.m., I landed safely in Kesennuma.

Baby Found Alive, Grandmother and Boy Found Alive After Nine Days in Ishinomaki

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The tsunami did produce some miracles: an 80-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson — trapped inside their nearly demolished house in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture — were rescued after nine days. They subsisted on the contents of a refrigerator until the boy — Jin Abe — wriggled out and alerted rescuers who needed about 50 minutes to free his grandmother’sumi Abe. Jin said they ate yoghurt and sweets and drank water and were trapped in a space “about the size of a room, although there wasn’t even enough space to stand up and walk around.” They kept their spirits up by chatting and encouraging each other. Jin said he escaped after he “found a gap that had opened up in the I could get out.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2011]

A police officer who helped rescue Jin and Sumi told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “I’m astonished that there people who stayed alive in there.” Sumi’s father said “Thank you very much for saving them. I’ve believed they had to be alive, I think its really important not to give up.”

In a public address on the disaster in Japan, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “In one small town that had been flattened by the tsunami, emergency workers rescued a 4-month-old baby who had been swept out of her parents’ arms and stranded for days among the debris. No one can say for certain just how she survived the water and the wreckage around her. There is a mystery in the course of human events. But in the midst of economic recovery and global upheaval, disasters like this remind us of the common humanity that we share. We see it in the responders who are risking their lives at Fukushima. We show it through the help that has poured into Japan from 70 countries. And we hear it in the cries of a child miraculously pulled from the rubble.

Man Swept Out to Sea Rescued Clinging to His Roof

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Damage in Ofunato
Forty-three hours after being swept miles out to sea by the March 11 tsunamia 60-year-old man was found floating on the roof of his house 15 kilometers off the coast of Japan, 25 kilometers from his house on Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, was rescued by the crew of a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces destroyer. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force released a photograph of the man, Hiromitsu Shinkawa, waving to his rescuers with a red flag he had made himself. [Source: New York Times]

The defense ministry said that Shinkawa’s home in the town of Minami-soma was torn from its foundations by the first wave of the tsunami that crashed ashore. He saw his wife slip away in the deluge, and then clung to the roof as the house was pulled out to sea. Shinkawa's wife is still missing. In a June interview with Yomiuri Shimbun Shinkawa said, "We should have run from the house immediately...Whenever a tsunami occurs, flee immediately." Agence France-Presse reported Shinkawa said he and his wife initially ran away after hearing that a tsunami was coming, “But I turned back to pick up something at home, when I was washed away.”

Shinkawa, a temporary employee of a local forestry association, and his wife were at their home in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, when the tsunami struck. The house was about one kilometer from the coast. Shinkawa had come home after the earthquake, and found rice seed that had just been delivered by a local agricultural cooperative. He pondered what to do with it, and ultimately stored it in a barn. [Source: Yuichi Sato, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2011]

Shinkawa then went upstairs. Looking outside from a balcony, he saw muddy water surging toward the house and heard his wife calling from downstairs, "Let's get out of here!" Soon after he felt an impact, and he and his wife were torn in different directions. As he was swept away, Shinkawa saw the floating roof of his house and clambered onto it, he said. "The surface of the sea looked just like land because it was covered by debris," Shinkawa recalled. He tried in vain to locate his wife.

The following day, a comic book and a highlighter pen drifted to the roof. Shinkawa tore off a page and wrote on it, "Hiromitsu's wife Yuko also swept away by tsunami [March] 12 Hiromitsu." He also wrote down her birthday and put the page in the empty bottle of a nutrition drink. Shinkawa said he did so because he wanted someone to find his wife in case he died and show her proof that he had survived the tsunami.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “During the ordeal, Shinkawa had two bottles of nutrition drink on him, and he decided to consume half a bottle a day. When rescued, he had just consumed the last mouthful of the drink. Shinkawa told the crew: It was my only energy source. I consumed the last of it, thinking I'd die today.” There was much drifting debris, which repeatedly bumped into the floating roof. Shinkawa retrieved a helmet he found floating on the sea and wore it to protect his head from the shocks. Shinkawa also picked up a drifting futon and blanket, and used them to endure the cold weather.”

Upon being hauled onto the ship, he gratefully drank a glass of water and then broke into tears. A defense official told The Associated Press that Mr. Shinkawa said he had been trying to get the attention of passing ships and helicopters for two days, “but none of them noticed me.” He added: “I thought today was the last day of my life.”

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun Shinkawa told the crew, "Men should not give up." But the crew said he was shedding tears worrying about whether his wife was alive. Hospital staff said although Shinkawa had scratches on his face and arms, he had no life-threatening conditions and was able to walk on his own. After he received medical treatment, an ambulance transported Shinkawa to a relative's house in the city.

Yoshinobu Tsuji, an associate professor of the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute who is an expert on tsunami, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "When a tsunami hits, many people fail to escape and either drown, or are injured by floating debris...As the wall of the water was approaching, it was a miracle that he had the presence of mind to climb onto the roof. Once the roof moved offshore, it could remain afloat as the sea there was calm. In contrast to simply floating in the sea, he was able to prevent body temperature loss as he was on the roof, and thus was able to conserve his physical energy. So it makes sense that he could survive for two days."

Four-Year-Old Girl Loses Her Family

A four-year-old girl in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, who was swept away by a 30-meter that struck her house, which was thought to be safe because it near an evacuation center, was saved, it is thought, because here school backpack got entangled in a fishing net. She lost her mother and father and two-year-old sister though. Many newspaper readers shed tears when they read a letter the girl wrote to her mother which said: “Dear Mommy, I hope you are alive. Are you well?”

The girl, whose name in Manami, lived in a fisherman’s house on higher ground in Miyako. When the tsunami struck her family was in the yard and was swept away. Manami became entangled in a fishing net and was the sole survivor. Ironically her name means “Love the Sea.”

She fell asleep after that day, perhaps exhausted by everything that had happened. Later she finished he letter: “Thank you for [showing me] “origami and cats’ cradle and reading me books. She also penned a letter to her father, “Dear Daddy, please catch many fish, abalone and sea urchin and octopus and kombu.” In September, Manami told her grandmother, “Mommy has become a star.”

Firefighter Who Lost His Wife and Baby Daughter

Describing a firefighter in Ishinomaki who lost hie wife Emi and baby daughter Atsuki, John M. Glionna wrote Los Angeles Times, In the minutes after the quake struck at 2:46 p.m., Oikawa was swamped with work at the station. With the phones out, he worried about his family's whereabouts. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2011]

At 3 p.m., not long before the tsunami hit, he got a text message that Emi and the baby were at a nearby evacuation center. But he couldn't go to them; his work demanded that he assist in responding to the town's catastrophe. The brief message from his wife would have to do for now, he told himself.

Four days later, he was finally able to drive to the center. "The building was no longer there; it was just washed away," he said. Oikawa sat in the car, dumbfounded. "I knew they were gone," he said. "I was dead inside. There was no crying or anger, only emptiness."

Oikawa has spent more than 200 hours — at least an hour every day — looking not just for the remains of Emi and Atsuki, but for anything else he can hold on to: a piece of their clothing, a shoe, a baby's face towel. "They haunt him," said Keitaro Kimura, a friend of Oikawa. "The fact he's still looking shows how much he loved them."

Two weeks later, on his first full day off from work, he began his search. Within days, he discovered the family's black station wagon, its windows shattered. Inside, he found the baby's car seat and a single tiny shoe. Later, he located what he's sure is Atsuki's pink-and-white-striped baby towel.At first, Oikawa said, he didn't want to find the bodies. But his resolve to locate them grew with each fruitless search.

His expeditions sometimes last 10 hours or more. With patient precision, he plots the ground already covered on his map, gradually moving away from the evacuation center in concentric circles, following the path the waves might have taken. Once word spread through firefighter circles about his quest, Oikawa has been joined at various times by more than 100 colleagues from across Japan. He knows their interest will wane, but not his own.

"I'm stubborn," he said. "When I've searched the land, I'll fish rivers and streams in the hope I'll hook one of their bodies. Whatever shape they're in, I just want them back."Weeks ago, he thought he had found Emi. He and other searchers spotted the body of a woman lying face-down in the mud, as if someone had pushed her there. Coming closer, Oikawa realized it wasn't her. The hair was too white, the frame too small. It was somebody else's wife, not his own.

Mother Reunited with Son After Assuming the Worst

Reporting from Ishinomaki, Hiroshi Inoshita wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Yuko Sugimoto feared the worst. She had lost contact with her 5-year-old son, Raito, whose kindergarten stood in the path of the tsunami that devastated Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 11. In a photo that appeared in major foreign newspapers, Sugimoto was shown two days later wrapped in a blanket and staring bleakly in the direction of Ishinomaki Mizuho No. 2 Kindergarten. She still had not heard anything about the fate of her son.” [Source: Hiroshi Inoshita, Yomiuri Shimbun, April 16, 2011]

“Sugimoto, 28, was in an office building in a neighboring town when the earthquake struck. She immediately jumped in her car and drove to Ishinomaki, but the roads were impassable and she was forced to turn back. On March 12, accompanied by her 36-year-old husband, Harunori, she again looked in vain for her son. Torn with grief, she kept receiving conflicting information: “The children were rescued” or “The children were swept away.”

“However, she finally learned the real story. There were 11 children and 14 teachers and staff members in the kindergarten when the earthquake hit. Everyone evacuated to the second floor as the tsunami swept in. However, as the black, muddy seawater quickly rose to the second floor, the teachers pulled the children up to the roof. Gym mats were used to keep the wind off the children and stuffed animals and curtains were used to keep them warm.”

“Three days after the disaster, Sugimoto learned the children had been evacuated to Ishinomaki Senshu University. She rushed to the university and was finally reunited with Raito. She hugged him so strongly she thought she would never let him go. Clutching Raito's legs and arms and listening to his voice, the boy's mother could only say, “Thank goodness.”

“One month after the disaster the Sugimotos now live in a rented house in Osaki in another part of the prefecture. Raito always clings onto Sugimoto and will not go to the restroom by himself.” "Did you feel lonely when I wasn't with you?" Sugimoto asked her son, who nodded shyly. Sugimoto cannot stop smiling with happiness. "As long as my son is with me, I can look forward to anything," she said.

Dogs Survive Tsunami Are Reunited with Owners

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Damage in Ofunato
In early April, three weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, a dog was rescued from floating debris 1.8 kilometers off Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. The dog, whose name was Ban, was in good health and didn’t seem shell-shocked by the experience. She was rescued by three coast guard members in a boat after she ran away from a helicopter that tried to rescue her. Her owner saw footage of the dog on television and was reunited with her pet a couple days later at an animal shelter. When she saw her owner, Ban wagged her tail and jumped up to greet her, a person at the shelter where Ban was kept told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

From Arahama, Miyagi Prefecture, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Eric Bellman wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “When the tsunami warnings sounded after the massive earthquake... Masaki Kikuchi sprinted upstairs to grab his sleeping 12-year-old daughter before racing away to escape the rushing waters. In the backyard tied to a small shed, Mr. Kikuchi left behind two dogs: Towa, a two-year-old Sheltie and Melody, a one-year-old Golden Retriever. Mr. Kikuchi assumed the giant tsunami that flattened his neighbors' homes and whisked away their cars probably killed Towa and Melody too.” [Source: Daisuke Wakabayashi and Eric Bellman, Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2011]

“Kaya Kikuchi, the 20-year-old daughter of Mr. Kikuchi, was riding the bus home from her job at a local restaurant. When the earthquake struck, a power line fell in front of the bus and passengers started filing out. She rushed to her cousin's house, which was nearby. She asked her cousin to drive her back home because she wanted to go save the dogs that she had begged her father to get. Within a half-mile of her home, police stopped the car. They told Ms. Kikuchi that a tsunami was coming and she could not go any farther. "I told my cousin that I was going to walk. She told me that I would die if I went," said Ms. Kikuchi. “I was crushed. I thought they were dead.”

“But Towa and Melody had other ideas. They somehow broke free from the ropes tying them to the shed and ran up outdoor stairs to the second floor of Mr. Kikuchi's house. And then they waited and waited. “I don't know how they survived,” said Mr. Kikuchi.

“Two days after the earthquake, Mr. Kikuchi ventured out from the evacuation center where his family had reunited unharmed. He walked in rubber boots on the debris-covered roads still covered in floodwater with his feet sinking in the thick mud below. When he finally got to the house, sidestepping a car that had shifted to block the entrance to the driveway, he could hear the barking. “I was happy to see them because I had felt badly about leaving them behind,” said Mr. Kikuchi. He gave them water, food and brought them inside after cleaning them up.”

“The Kikuchi family home was turned completely upside down with plates, food and utensils lying in an inch of muddy water on the kitchen floor. He said just down the road, many people died. Luckily, he said, a local elementary school withstood the tsunami and 400 people including the students were evacuated by helicopter.

As soon as Ms. Kikuchi entered the driveway, Towa jumped up and started scratching at the door. She opened the door and the Sheltie with fur still dotted with mud jumped up on Ms. Kikuchi's leg. Melody, who is more reserved, barked excitedly from inside. Ms. Kikuchi, her face still red with excitement, said she was so happy to see the dogs, a bit of good news in an otherwise tragic event. "When my father told me they were alive, I was so excited," she said. "It's been so stressful. It's so good to see them" Mr. Kikuchi and his daughter said they will come back every day to look after the dogs, but they are not going to bring the dogs to the shelter."There are lots of people dead and it's too much to ask to bring the dogs," said Mr. Kikuchi. "It would be inconsiderate to other people's sadness."

Dog Saves Owner in Miyako

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Damage in Ofunato
Reporting from Miyako in Iwater Prefecture,Toru Asami wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Babu does not normally like going for walks, but when the 12-year-old shih tzu insisted on going for one soon after the March 11 earthquake, her owner, Tami Akanuma, suspected something was amiss. And when Babu stubbornly headed for a nearby hill rather than taking their usual route in the coastal city of Miyako, Akanuma decided to follow along.” [Source: Toru Asami, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2011]

“Doing so may have saved Akanuma's life: Minutes after climbing the hill, a devastating tsunami slammed into the town, flattening the district of Taro-Kawamukai where they lived about 200 meters from the coast.” “Babu might have sensed a tsunami was coming,” said Akanuma, 83.

“Akanuma was relaxing in her living room when the quake struck off the Tohoku coast. The lights went out and Babu started scampering around the room, whimpering loudly and madly wagging her tail. “It's a bit early for a walk,” Akanuma thought, but she put Babu on her leash anyway. While they were in the entrance to Akanuma's home, a warning that a huge tsunami was heading for the Pacific coast was broadcast over the town's community speaker system.” Akanuma experienced the 1933 Showa Sanriku quake, which triggered a tsunami that left more than 900 people dead or missing in the Taro district. Her memories of that disaster meant they only had one option. “We need to evacuate,” Akanuma recalled thinking.”

As soon as she opened the door, Babu frantically ran outside and headed toward a nearby hill--the opposite direction they usually go for a walk. When Akanuma's pace slackened, Babu would look back, seemingly urging her owner to walk faster. When Akanuma caught up, Babu would bound ahead again, straining at her leash. This game of hurry-up-and-catch-me continued over and over. When Akanuma finally took a breather, she had climbed the hill where an evacuation center is located about one kilometer from her home. Turning around, Akanuma could barely believe her eyes: Most of the route she and Babu had walked had been swallowed up by the tsunami and her home had been consumed by the wall of muddy water.

Dachshund Survivor

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Some pet owners went to great lengths during the tsunami to save their animals. Ofunato resident Atsuko Oikawa was helping her mother-in-law into their car when the earthquake hit, and their two beloved miniature dachshunds ran off toward the port and the killer wave. She found Carlos, but Ghosn — the two are named after Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn — couldn't be found despite frantic searching. As the wave approached, she reluctantly headed for the hills with her husband, but there was a hole in their hearts over the missing dog, she said.

A week later, however, in what she considers a near-miracle, they received word from the police that Ghosn had not only survived but was in good shape. He had been found far inland near a beach sign, and the Oikawas speculate that he may have ridden the wave in. "Maybe he rode on it, a surfing dog, perhaps," said Oikawa's husband, Yuki. "We can't tell you how happy we are that Ghosn is back," Oikawa said. "He's part of our family and he's taught us a valuable lesson: Never, never give up."

Image Sources: 1) U.S. Navy, Wikicommons

Text Sources: New York Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Kyodo News, National Geographic, The Guardian. Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2011

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