Japan: miracle quake survivors


A man hugs his dog to keep it warm as earthquake victims pack an evacuation center March 20, 2011 in Ofunato, Japan. More than a week after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the death toll has risen to over 8,000 with thousands more still missing.


Paula Bronstein

MIYAGI, Japan – Even as the confirmed death toll rose to 8,133 on Sunday, there was a rare piece of good news as two survivors were rescued from rubble in Ishinomaki City, nine days after the earthquake and tsunami smashed Japan's northeast coastline.

An 80-year-old woman, who had been trapped under a refrigerator, and her 16-year-old grandson, were saved by a helicopter rescue crew about half a mile upstream from the mouth of a river where the tsunami had destroyed everything before it.

Jin Abe, unable to get from away his house due to debris, and unwilling to leave his grandmother, Sumi Abe, climbed onto its roof to try and attract the attention of rescue workers. Eventually somebody heard him and a helicopter winched them to safety.

The woman and boy were able to survive by eating yogurt and other food from the refrigerator. The grandmother was in good spirits and able to talk to reporters, while her grandson was showing symptoms of hypothermia due to the extreme cold which has hit the area this week, hampering rescue and relief work.

Ishinomaki City is in Miyagi Prefecture, the hardest-hit of the quake and tsunami regions. Local officials have said that the death toll in the prefecture alone could top 15,000 — pushing the overall total well over 20,000.

On Saturday it was reported that a man in his 20s had been rescued after eight days in his house, but it later emerged he had been to an evacuation center and then returned. He was in shock when rescuers found him, and unable to speak, causing them to believe he had just been reached.

In Onagawa, an older woman who is known for her work trying to get the Japanese government to recognize of the practice of sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, was found safe and well in an evacuation shelter. Song Shin Do, an 88-year-old Korean woman who lives in Japan, along with 200,000 others were what was euphemistically known as "comfort women." She lost her case to have her status officially acknowledged last October.

Onagawa is on the Oshika Peninsula, the part of Japan's main Honshu Island that is closest to the epicenter of the massive quake that hit on March 11. The earthquake moved the whole peninsula 17 feet southeast and sunk it 4 feet, as well as knocking the world off its axis, according to Japan's Geospatial Information Authority.

Further down the peninsula at Yori-iso-hama there are still 110 people living in a makeshift evacuation center at the local elementary school.

“More than 250 people have been taken out by helicopter, which are also bringing supplies in,” said 70-year-old Yukitoshi Watanabe. “But people are still arriving here from outlying areas too.”

“The biggest problems now are mental,” said Michiko Sasaki, a nurse at the center who comprises the entire medical team. “The biggest problems now are psychological as news starts to trickle in about relatives that have died: children, cousins other relatives.”

“The stress of looking for bodies is also really getting to some people,” explained Sasaki.

A man and his adult son scour the rubble on the shoreline where their town used to be. The man says he comes every day to look for his wife and mother, who were swept away by the tsunami. So far he has not found his loved ones but has come across the corpses of four other people.

See GlobalPost's complete coverage of the tsunami and earthquake in Japan.