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Authorities recover body of likely last missing person in Kumamoto quake

Police officers dig out a car during the search for Hikaru Yamato, in Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Aug. 11, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Kumamoto Prefectural Government)

KUMAMOTO -- A body thought to be that of a university student missing since the April 16 Kumamoto Earthquake was discovered in what is thought to be the student's car, the Kumamoto Prefectural Government announced on Aug. 11.

Hikaru Yamato, a 22-year-old fourth-year student at Kumamoto Gakuen University, is the only person still unaccounted for from the earthquake. As of Aug. 11 there were 49 deaths attributed directly to the quake, and if the body is confirmed as that of Yamato, the toll will climb to 50. According to prefectural police, the body is of a male and there is a high likelihood that it is Yamato. An autopsy was to be conducted on the body on Aug. 12.

The body was clothed, and within the car was a bank account booklet in Yamato's name and an Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) card carrying the same name as Yamato's 58-year-old father, Takuya.

Early on April 16, the day of the main shock of the earthquake, Yamato is thought to have been driving near the Aso Ohashi bridge, which collapsed in the disaster, in the village of Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture. After the quake, search and rescue workers from the national and prefectural governments searched the area, removing mud that had collected on the road near the river that ran in the ravine below, but they found no clues and the search for Yamato was called off on May 1.

The discovery was thanks to the determination of Yamato's parents. Takuya and Shinobu, 49, unable to give up, kept searching every weekend, walking the area downstream from the bridge. People including Yamato's parents found what appeared to be Yamato's car on July 24 at a location about 400 meters downstream from the bridge, and they asked the prefectural government to lift the mud-submerged vehicle. On Aug. 9 searchers from the prefectural government and elsewhere began work to excavate the vehicle.

Hikaru Yamato (Photo courtesy of Takuya Yamato)

On Aug. 11, the day the body thought to be Yamato was found, Takuya said, "Time has stopped since April 16. Now maybe time will start again."

At some time after 5:30 p.m., as a prefectural rescue helicopter carried the body, Shinobu yelled to it, "Hikaru, you can come home soon!"

That night, Takuya and Shinobu burned incense for their son in a room at the Ozu Police Station where the body was being kept. They were silent as they left the room and the station.

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