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'You took care of me for so long': Japan couple's 59-year marriage ends in flood tragedy

Sandbags are seen piled up on a section of the Natsui River in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, which was damaged by Typhoon Hagibis, on Oct. 16, 2019. (Mainichi)

IWAKI, Fukushima -- Seven people are confirmed to have died in this city in northeastern Japan when it was inundated with floods caused by Typhoon Hagibis over Oct. 12 and 13.

Among the fatal incidents, Yuriko Sekine, 86, saw her husband, Osamu, 86, drown in muddy waters that surged into their home. The flooding came as far as her neck. "It was like it wasn't real," she said, becoming lost for words to describe the fear and sadness that had suddenly entered their lives.

Osamu and Yuriko Sekine lived together in a single story home situated around 300 meters from the Natsui River, which burst its banks amid the effects of the typhoon. On the night of Oct. 12, they rolled out their futons and went to sleep, but when Yuriko got up in the early hours of Oct. 13 to go to the bathroom, she realized their bedding had soaked through. The flooding had begun.

Around five years ago, Osamu had started to lose mobility in his legs due to a condition afflicting his back. In the last year, he had managed to stand up by using things around him as support.

That night he moved himself over to the window to cry out for help from anyone in the neighborhood. Yuriko was in her room moving their valued possessions to higher places when the water level rose suddenly.

"You'll get cold if you stay there, come here," she shouted at him from her bed, and told him to hold on as she gripped his hand and tried to pull him up. But Osamu was powerless against the water. "You took care of me for so long," he said to her, as his body went limp and he sank into the muddy water.

The level rose again. Yuriko stood on the bed and watched it come as far as her neck. But from there it relented, and she was saved by a rescue boat.

Osamu had worked as an assistant at a public prosecutor's office. On his days off he would wander around mountains and rivers to go fishing and picking mountain vegetables. He and Yuriko were married for 59 years, and had two daughters.

Their eldest daughter came from Tokyo to help clean up the family home. "Right before the typhoon struck he called me out of concern, and told me to move my car somewhere up high so it didn't get flooded. He was always thinking of us," she said, on the verge of tears.

Their neighbor, Hideki Komatsu, 67, evacuated to the second floor of his home when the waters rose. He said he heard Osamu shouting, "It's cold. Help us!" many times that night. But floodwaters were flowing down the road with force, so there was no way for him to go to them. "I can't forget the sound of Osamu's voice that night. It's so sad," he said dejectedly.

Yuriko spoke briefly, "It's good to live together as husband and wife. It's hard having to go on alone."

(Japanese original by Hironori Tsuchie, City News Department)

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