Rescued nine miles out to sea, the man washed away on his house

Survivors' tales
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In one of the most remarkable survival stories to have emerged from the disaster so far, Japanese rescue workers have found a 60-year-old man floating more than nine miles out to sea, clinging to the roof of his house.

Hiromitsu Shinkawa was spotted waving a red cloth while perched on the wreckage of his home in the open sea. He had been drifting in the Pacific Ocean for nearly two days after the tsunami engulfed his house and swept it out to sea with him still on it.

Mr Shinkawa lived in Minami Soma city in Fukushima prefecture, one of the coastal towns that took the brunt of the tsunami's force on Friday, and which is reported to have been all but destroyed by the disaster. Like many residents, he and his wife attempted to flee the area once the tremors began and fears of a tsunami began to spread.

The couple decided to turn back, however, when they realised they had left valuables in their house. They were retrieving their belongings when the floodwaters ripped through the neighbourhood, tearing the building from its foundations.

"I ran away after learning that the tsunami was coming. But I turned back to pick up something at home, [and then] I was washed away," Mr Shinkawa told local media. Remarkably, the roof of the house appears to have floated, and he was able to reach it and hold on as the building drifted. His wife was swept away in the torrent.

The house appears to have continued to float as the floodwaters began their retreat, taking Mr Shinkawa and what remained of his home with them, and eventually depositing him far out in the open ocean, along with thousands of tons of debris from Fukushima's coastline.

When rescuers from a Maritime Self-Defence Force destroyer found him, he on the verge of tears, convinced he would never be found alive. He is now in hospital and is reported to be in relatively good physical condition, given his ordeal.

Minami Soma city, where the couple used to live, is reported to have been almost razed to the ground by the disaster, with parts of what was the town centre now no more than fields of mud and debris.

Other remarkable stories of survival are also emerging. Koichi Takairin, a 34-year-old truck driver, was caught by the tsunami in Sendai, but managed to survive by locking himself in his lorry, which protected him from the water and debris flowing around him. "All I could do was sit in my truck and pray," he told the BBC. And Sayori Suzuki, a housewife from Minami Soma, has described how one of her relatives managed to escape the floodwaters through luck and fast driving. "He was fleeing in a car, but watched in the rear view mirror as the waves were catching up on him. He escaped very narrowly," she explained.