Image: Rescue of Hiromitsu Shinkawa
Jiji Press  /  AFP - Getty Images
Sixty-year-old survivor Hiromitsu Shinkawa waves from wreckage, as crew members of Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) Aegis vessel Choukai rescue him. staff and news service reports
updated 3/13/2011 1:20:08 PM ET 2011-03-13T17:20:08

A 60-year-old man was rescued two days after he was swept miles out to sea on the roof of his house by the huge tsunami which hit Japan Friday, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

Hiromitsu Shinkawa was plucked to safety at 12:40 p.m. local time Sunday (10:40 p.m. Saturday ET) after he was spotted nine miles off shore by the crew of a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer, the AFP said.

Shinkawa, from the devastated city of Minamisoma, was conscious and in "good condition," the agency reported citing ministry officials.

"I ran away after learning that the tsunami was coming," Shinkawa told rescuers, AFP said, citing Jiji Press. "But I turned back to pick up something at home, when I was washed away. I was rescued while I was hanging to the roof from my house."

Other survivors caught up in the devastating earthquake and tsunami shared harrowing stories and their fears.

Among the voices:

Harumi Watanabe
She told the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper that she had driven "as quickly as I could" to her elderly parents' house in the coastal town of Shintona after the earthquake, arriving shortly before the tsunami wave struck.

"There wasn't time to save them. They were old and too weak to walk so I couldn't get them in the car in time," she told the paper. Her parents were ripped from her grasp and dragged down by the water.

She was trapped in the house and said the water rose up to her neck as she stood on furniture. "There was only a narrow band of air below the ceiling. I thought I would die," she told The Guardian.

Ichiro Sakamoto
"Is it a dream? I just feel like I am in a movie or something," said Sakamoto, 50, in Hitachi, a city in Ibaraki Prefecture. "Whenever I am alone I have to pinch my cheek to check whether it's a dream or not."

Yuko Abe
"I am looking for my parents and my older brother," Yuko Abe, 54, said in tears in Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened village in far-northern Iwate prefecture. "Seeing the way the area is, I thought that perhaps they did not make it....I also cannot tell my siblings that live away that I am safe, as mobile phones and telephones are not working."

Satako Yusawa
She teared up as she scanned the landscape of debris and destruction, looking at the patch of earth where Japan's massive tsunami erased her son's newly built house.

Despite destruction and loss, the 69-year-old widow said she was thankful: Her son and his family were out of town when Friday's offshore, 8.9-magnitude quake sparked huge surges of water that washed fleets of cars, boats and entire houses across coastal Sendai like detritus perched on lava.

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"This," she said, "is life."

Yusawa said she was having tea at a friend's house when the main quake struck, shaking the ground massively for more than two horrifying minutes.

"We were desperately trying to hold the furniture up," she said, "but the shaking was so fierce that we just panicked."

Video: U.S. rescue teams dispatch for Japan (on this page)

Koichi Takairin
The 34-year-old truck driver from Sendai spent the day recounting his harrowing ordeal.

"The tsunami was unbelievably fast — cars were swept around me. All I could do was sit in my truck and pray," he said.

He hunkered down inside his sturdy 4-ton truck as homes, cars, and trees swept past him.

Hours after waters receded, Takairin said he walked out of his wrecked truck and joined scores of others who were as stunned by loss.

Fumiaki Yamato
The 70-year-old was inside his vacation home in a mountain village outside of Sendai when the temblor struck, The New York Times reported. He was driving toward Sendai trying to find the rest of his family when he spoke with a reporter. "I’m getting worried,” he said, adding, "I don’t know how many hours it’s going to take." Roads were impassable.

Lucy Craft
After the quake, the freelance correspondent in Tokyo spent each moment trying to locate her teenage son.

"The phone lines are still down ... I haven't been able to get in touch with him by cell phone, I haven't been able to contact anybody there. I have his teacher's phone number ... the phones aren't working," Craft told CNN on Saturday. Her son was attending a high school near the epicenter in Sendai. "It's a very upsetting situation, as you can imagine."

Masanori Ono
The 17-year-old watched workers wearing white masks and protective clothing use handheld scanners to check everyone arriving for radiation exposure from evacuated areas around a crippled nuclear power plant.

"There is radiation leaking out, and since the possibility (of exposure) is high, it's quite scary," said Masanori Ono, queuing at a center in Koriyama city, in Fukushima prefecture.

Yohei Yonekura
The 31-year-old entrepreneur at one emergency center, a baseball practice facility in Koriyama, was among dozens of people huddled under blankets and tried to sleep.

"My home is in Minami Soma and I still have people who I haven't been able to contact and there have been reports of the nuclear leak. I'm really concerned about their safety."

Reiko Takagi
Like 51,000 other people around the nuclear plant, the middle-age woman struggled to get away.

"Everyone wants to get out of the town. But the roads are terrible," said Takagi, standing outside a taxi company. "It is too dangerous to go anywhere. But we are afraid that winds may change and bring radiation toward us."

Yoshio Miura
The 65-year-old man was in his small trucking company office when the rumbling started, sending him under a table and dislodging heavy metal cabinets.

"These cabinets fell down right on top of me, and luckily they were stopped by this table," he said, gesturing across an office in shambles, its contents strewn across the floor by the quake and then coated in a thick layer of grime from the tsunami.

"The shaking was mostly side to side, it was very strong. ... Look at what it did to this building!" He points to a large shed that was lifted off its foundation.

Then came the water — massive waves that swept some 6 miles inland — and chaos.

Naomi Ishizawa
The cell phone saleswoman was working when the quake hit in the mid afternoon. She said it took until nightfall to reach her house just outside Sendai and check on her parents, who were both OK. Their home was still standing, but the walls of a bedroom and bathroom had collapsed and debris was strewn throughout.

And yet, she was lucky. The tsunami's inland march stopped just short of her residence; other houses in her neighborhood were totally destroyed.

Like many people throughout Japan's northeast, she had not heard from others in her family and was worried.

"My uncle and his family live in an area near the shore where there were a lot of deaths," Ishizawa, 24, said. "We can't reach them."

Michiko Yamada
The 75-year-old spoke from Rikuzentakata, where several neighborhoods were completely swept away.

"The tsunami was black and I saw people on cars and an old couple get swept away right in front of me."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

© 2013

Video: Expert: Evacuation zone may not be adequate

  1. Transcript of: Expert: Evacuation zone may not be adequate

    LESTER HOLT, co-host (Tokyo): We're bringing in Edwin Lyman now. He is a nuclear energy expert and joins us this morning from Washington . Mr. Lyman , we appreciate you being with us. I'll start off by asking you point blank, what is a meltdown, how serious is it?

    Mr. EDWIN LYMAN (Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists): Well, a meltdown is when the radioactive fuel in the core of a reactor overheats to the extent that the uranium ceramic fuel actually begins to turn to a liquid, to melt. And the danger is that if the entire core melts, it becomes something like a lava, which can then slump down to the bottom of the metal vessel that it's contained in, and it's so corrosive that it can eat through the bottom of that vessel and then drop to the floor of the containment building , and then the ability to contain the radiation becomes much, much more challenging. So the goal is to prevent a full...

    HOLT: I don't want to trivialize this...

    Mr. LYMAN: Sorry.

    HOLT: ...but -- yeah. I don't want to trivialize this, but years ago there was a movie called " The China Syndrome ," and it was about a nuclear accident and the thought that this meltdown would go all the way through the earth. Would it be that catastrophic? Would it -- would it not only put radiation in the air, but also into the earth?

    Mr. LYMAN: Well, probably not. The most likely scenario is that it melt -- the molten fuel would eat through the sides of the containment building and then most of the gases and other vapors would escape to the sides and probably end up in the atmosphere. So the most likely path would be upward.

    HOLT: They've got a 20 kilometer exclusion zone right now that works out to a little over 12 miles. Would they have to expand that? And would there be any warning for the folks living in the area if the situation became exponentially worse?

    Mr. LYMAN: I believe that the 20-kilometer zone is not adequate. If there is a severe accident, a loss of containment, there could be severe contamination for probably hundreds of miles downwind, and I'm not sure that they are adequately educating the public about that potential risk. So I'm quite concerned.

    HOLT: The prevailing winds would blow east out over the water, and that leads to my next question. Does this have a global impact? When you get a radioactive release, does it continue to sail around the world and just to be at the whim of the winds, the wind patterns?

    Mr. LYMAN: Well, what we saw after the Chernobyl accident was that, yes, it actually sent radiation all around the northern hemisphere. Of course, most of that, the most severely contaminated areas were settled within hundreds of miles of the plant. And in this case I would expect that we would probably be able to detect some of the radioactivity emitted from the plant, but at this point, I don't think it would pose a serious health threat to the United States .

    HOLT: Well, it is all very scary stuff for those of us laymen, and we hear nuclear in terms of meltdown. Edwin Lyman , we do appreciate you coming on and offering your expertise this morning. It's very helpful.

Explainer: The 10 deadliest earthquakes in recorded history

  • A look at the worst earthquakes in recorded history, in loss of human life. (The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsumani that affected eastern Japan is not included because the fatalities caused, about 15,000, are fewer than those resulting from the temblors listed below.) Sources: United States Geological Survey, Encyclopedia Britannica

  • 1: Shensi, China, Jan. 23, 1556

    Magnitude about 8, about 830,000 deaths.

    This earthquake occurred in the Shaanxi province (formerly Shensi), China, about 50 miles east-northeast of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi. More than 830,000 people are estimated to have been killed. Damage extended as far away as about 270 miles northeast of the epicenter, with reports as far as Liuyang in Hunan, more than 500 miles away. Geological effects reported with this earthquake included ground fissures, uplift, subsidence, liquefaction and landslides. Most towns in the damage area reported city walls collapsed, most to all houses collapsed and many of the towns reported ground fissures with water gushing out.

  • 2: Tangshan, China, July 27, 1976

    Chinese Earthquake
    Keystone  /  Getty Images
    1976: Workers start rebuilding work following earthquake damage in the Chinese city of Tangshan, 100 miles east of Pekin, with a wrecked train carriage behind them. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
    Magnitude 7.5. Official casualty figure is 255,000 deaths. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000.

    Damage extended as far as Beijing. This is probably the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries, and the second greatest in recorded history.

  • 3: Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 9, 1138

    Magnitude not known, about 230,000 deaths.

    Contemporary accounts said the walls of Syria’s second-largest city crumbled and rocks cascaded into the streets. Aleppo’s citadel collapsed, killing hundreds of residents. Although Aleppo was the largest community affected by the earthquake, it likely did not suffer the worst of the damage. European Crusaders had constructed a citadel at nearby Harim, which was leveled by the quake. A Muslim fort at Al-Atarib was destroyed as well, and several smaller towns and manned forts were reduced to rubble. The quake was said to have been felt as far away as Damascus, about 220 miles to the south. The Aleppo earthquake was the first of several occurring between 1138 and 1139 that devastated areas in northern Syria and western Turkey.

  • 4: Sumatra, Indonesia, Dec. 26, 2004

    Aerial images show the extent of the devastation in Meulaboh
    Getty Images  /  Getty Images
    MEULABOH, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 29: In this handout photo taken from a print via the Indonesian Air Force, the scene of devastation in Meulaboh, the town closest to the Sunday's earthquake epicentre, is pictured from the air on December 29, 2004, Meulaboh, Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The western coastal town in Aceh Province, only 60 kilometres north-east of the epicentre, has been the hardest hit by sunday's underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Officials expected to find at least 10,000 killed which would amount to a quarter of Meulaboh's population. Three-quarters of Sumatra's western coast was destroyed and some towns were totally wiped out after the tsunamis that followed the earthquake. (Photo by Indonesian Air Force via Getty Images)

    Magnitude 9.1, 227,898 deaths.

    This was the third largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska temblor. In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. (In January 2005, the death toll was 286,000. In April 2005, Indonesia reduced its estimate for the number missing by over 50,000.)

  • 5: Haiti, Jan 12, 2010

    Haitians walk through collapsed building
    Jean-philippe Ksiazek  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Haitians walk through collapsed buildings near the iron market in Port-au-Prince on January 31, 2010. Quake-hit Haiti will need at least a decade of painstaking reconstruction, aid chiefs and donor nations warned, as homeless, scarred survivors struggled today to rebuild their lives. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

    Magnitude 7.0. According to official estimates, 222,570 people killed.

    According to official estimates, 300,000 were also injured, 1.3 million displaced, 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in the Port-au-Prince area and in much of southern Haiti. This includes at least 4 people killed by a local tsunami in the Petit Paradis area near Leogane. Tsunami waves were also reported at Jacmel, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Leogane, Luly and Anse a Galets.

  • 6: Damghan, Iran, Dec. 22, 856

    Magnitude not known, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake struck a 200-mile stretch of northeast Iran, with the epicenter directly below the city of Demghan, which was at that point the capital city. Most of the city was destroyed as well as the neighboring areas. Approximately 200,000 people were killed.

  • 7: Haiyuan, Ningxia , China, Dec. 16, 1920

    7.8 magnitude, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake brought total destruction to the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. Over 73,000 people were killed in Haiyuan County. A landslide buried the village of Sujiahe in Xiji County. More than 30,000 people were killed in Guyuan County. Nearly all the houses collapsed in the cities of Longde and Huining. About 125 miles of surface faulting was seen from Lijunbu through Ganyanchi to Jingtai. There were large numbers of landslides and ground cracks throughout the epicentral area. Some rivers were dammed, others changed course.

  • 8: Ardabil, Iran, March. 23, 893

    Magnitude not known, about 150,000 deaths

    The memories of the massive Damghan earthquake (see above) had barely faded when only 37 years later, Iran was again hit by a huge earthquake. This time it cost 150,000 lives and destroyed the largest city in the northwestern section of the country. The area was again hit by a fatal earthquake in 1997.

  • 9: Kanto, Japan, Sept. 1, 1923

    Kanto Damage
    Hulton Archive  /  Getty Images
    1923: High-angle view of earthquake and fire damage on Hongokucho Street and the Kanda District, taken from the Yamaguchi Bank building after the Kanto earthquake, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
    7.9 magnitude, 142,800 deaths.

    This earthquake brought extreme destruction in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, both from the temblor and subsequent firestorms, which burned about 381,000 of the more than 694,000 houses that were partially or completely destroyed. Although often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake (or the Great Tokyo Fire), the damage was most severe in Yokohama. Nearly 6 feet of permanent uplift was observed on the north shore of Sagami Bay and horizontal displacements of as much as 15 feet were measured on the Boso Peninsula.

  • 10: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Oct. 5, 1948

    7.3 magnitude, 110,000 deaths.

    This quake brought extreme damage in Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) and nearby villages, where almost all the brick buildings collapsed, concrete structures were heavily damaged and freight trains were derailed. Damage and casualties also occurred in the Darreh Gaz area in neighboring Iran. Surface rupture was observed both northwest and southeast of Ashgabat. Many sources list the casualty total at 10,000, but a news release from the newly independent government on Dec. 9, 1988, advised that the correct death toll was 110,000. (Turkmenistan had been part of the Soviet Union, which tended to downplay the death tolls from man-made and natural disasters.)


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