The end of the 72 hour period after which any missing people's chances of survival dramatically fall is fast approaching in the southern part of southwestern Japan's Kumamoto Prefecture, the site of a natural disaster caused by recent torrential rains.
Despite this, July 6 saw a third day of strong rainfall cover all of the Kyushu region, causing great difficulties for search and rescue efforts. Meanwhile, 14 people who were found in a state of cardiac arrest at the Senju-en home providing specialized care for the elderly, in the prefectural village of Kuma, have been confirmed dead. But even as the full picture of the damage gradually becomes clearer, the rain continues to fall.
In the early hours of July 4, 82-year-old Tamiko Sakai, a resident of the town of Ashikita, lost her life to the muddy waters that rushed up as high as her neck. Her older sister, 87-year-old Taeko Ose, held on to her in the desperate conditions for some five hours, but the floods pushed Sakai beyond her limit.
At just past 3 a.m. on July 4, Ose went out in the pounding rain to wake up her younger sister, who lived alone in the home next to hers. Along with her husband, she got Sakai, whose hearing was not good, out of her bedroom and outside, but by then the water was already coming in as high as her bed. The level gradually rose to flood the first floor.
The three of them went into a storage unit next to the house's front entrance, and they climbed up on top of the items inside it. They managed to break the roof of the unit, but with the water already coming up to their necks they were unable to move around.
Sakai, who had been frail, was initially responsive to her sister's calls. But the cold, muddy water sapped her strength, and while she was waiting for help, she began to foam at the mouth and then became unresponsive. With Sakai unable to steady herself in the water, Ose and her husband held her tightly as they could to stop her drifting away. At about 9 a.m. on July 4, some five hours later, a neighbor came in a canoe to help them. Sakai was taken to a house, but she died.
Ose said that when she was a girl, Sakai was an energetic child who would have play sword fights with the boys. In her youth she did track and field, was a softball player, and also coached an amateur baseball team. She had many friends, and was well liked in the community. Even as she aged, she would often say to her older sister, "I'm not going to become my older sister's responsibility." Recalling her younger sister, Ose said, "I was able to be there for her even until the end."
With a sense of loneliness entering her voice, Ose said, "I did as much as I could to keep on living. We've only had my sister's cremation, we won't be able to have the funeral until things have calmed down with us."
(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Takahashi, Saga Bureau)