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Fukushima Police Perspective: Care home for the elderly covered with mud (Pt. 3)

A care home for the aged in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, which was devastated after being engulfed by tsunami, is pictured in this photo taken on April 13, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Fukushima Prefectural Police)

I saw black smoke above a line of pine trees along the coast when I began to move toward a coastal area of the Haramachi district of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. I saw the smoke and a massive tsunami with white bubbles above the trees as high as 10 meters.

    I immediately felt, "Something serious has taken place," and, as a police officer, headed to the Shibusa district to confirm the situation of the densely populated residential area. As I moved forward, the amount of mud covering the road increased. Mud about 50 centimeters thick had piled up on the road near a care home for the elderly called, "Yosshi Land," which prevented me from going further.

    There were vehicles buried under rubble and mud, and numerous people covered with mud were lying on the ground nearby.

    I was shocked to see elderly people whose legs had weakened being engulfed by tsunami waves. I spoke to people who happened to be around me saying, "Are you all right?" and immediately began rescue work, gathering sheets and boards that have been washed away by tsunami to the area.

    I spoke to people lying in the area and noticed some of them had already stopped breathing.

    I then loudly told people around me that priority must be given to seriously injured or unconscious people in transporting survivors to the hospital, and asked them for cooperation in rescue operations. "Survivors must be given priority in transportation to the hospital," I loudly said. People who happened to be at the scene nodded and helped me with my work.

    So many people had been washed into the area and were just lying there, and I covered the bodies of those who had died with blankets.

    Workers at the care home and neighbors participated in rescue operations, while municipal government officials who rushed to the area by taxi and car were engaged in transportation of survivors to the hospital.

    Many of those who were saved were workers and residents of Yosshi Land. When I talked to them, I understood how they were engulfed by tsunami while fleeing.

    The tsunami waves were so powerful that they removed clothes from people they engulfed. I was terrified by the extreme power of tsunami.

    I put our utmost efforts into rescue operations amid fears of aftershocks and further tsunami. Additionally, I urged people in the neighborhood to flee the area to avoid a secondary disaster.

    What I still cannot forget is that I saved a man from a car that was submerged by water at the parking lot of Yosshi Land after being engulfed by tsunami. He body was stiff because he was terrified of the tsunami and he strongly grabbed his seatbelt. So I reassured him and had him take his hand off the seatbelt, after which I finally rescued him from the vehicle.

    An elderly person I rescued from a pile of mud was unable to walk because he was so terrified. I saw some other people in similar situations.

    I tried to cheer up survivors by saying to them loudly, "Walk on your own and evacuate. Please try hard," and managed to make sure that many disaster victims fled to safer ground.

    There were so many people lying in mud that I had no choice but to ask even elderly people to evacuate on their own as long as they were not injured and able to walk.

    More than 30 people died at Yosshi Land. Who could have imagined that tsunami would hit a facility that was over 1 kilometer away from the coast? (By Yuji Otani, aged in his 50s, at Minamisoma Police Station, September 2011)

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