Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Japan earthquake: Victim saved nine miles out to sea

ALTERNATE CROP AND CAPTION ADDITION - A mother strokes the head of her dead daughter as she and her husband look at the body of their daughter they found in a courtesy vehicle of a driving school that's smashed by a tsunami at Yamamoto, northeastern Japan, on Saturday March 12, 2011, a day after a giant earthquake and tsunami struck the country's northeastern coast. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE
Damaged platforms for bullet trains are seen in Sendai, northern Japan Monday, March 14, 2011 following Friday's massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE
Reporters at the Associated Press Tokyo Bureau in Tokyo take shelter under a table while a strong earthquake strikes eastern Japan Friday afternoon, March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

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.

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.

Remarkably, the roof of the house appears to have floated, and he was able to reach it and hold on. 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 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 far out in the open ocean, he was 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 condition.

Other remarkable stories include Koichi Takairin (34), a truck driver, who was caught by the tsunami in Sendai, but managed to survive by locking himself in his lorry.

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