Survivors recall racing for their lives
Updated: 2011-03-15 08:18
By Kelly Macnamara (China Daily)
SENDAI, Japan - Japanese tsunami survivors who were able to outrun the killer waves that raged out of the sea, have recalled how they saw those behind them consumed by the torrent of mud and debris.
"My older sister was in a bus when the wave came behind them. The bus driver told everybody to get out of the bus and run," said Otomo, a mother of three teens who herself managed to escape the deadly wall of water in her car.
"My sister was able to get away but some people just couldn't run fast enough," she said, adding they were engulfed by the swirling tsunami, which was sparked on Friday by a massive earthquake, the biggest ever recorded in Japan.
Otomo, whose home near Sendai was destroyed in the twin disasters, says she quickly piled her father and her dog in the car in a desperate bid to survive. She is thankful that her entire family was able to escape the waves.
"The tsunami wave was coming and I grabbed grandfather and our dog and drove. The wave was right behind me, but I had to keep zigzagging around obstacles and the water to get to safety," Otomo said.
Otomo is now living at an evacuation center in an area school with about 1,000 other exhausted survivors who cheated death.
Authorities fear that at least 10,000 people may have lost their lives.
In the gymnasium at the Rokugo junior high school, more than 100 people huddled in blankets on the floor as emergency food supplies were brought in.
Outside in the carpark, a water pump manned by volunteers provides a much-needed source of refreshment, local business owners arrive with crates of supplies, and a neat row of portable toilets has been set up.
At the entrance to the main hall, a neat arrangement of shoes is a testament to tradition, despite the disaster.
The atmosphere is strikingly calm, orderly and determined.
Maki Kobari, an English teacher, said she and her colleagues at the school - a designated emergency shelter - raced to help shortly after the tsunami hit.
They spent the first night after the catastrophe in the classrooms with only a few crackers between them, trying to organize some kind of response until officials arrived early on Sunday.
But there are no signs now of uniformed personnel - the center is manned by teams of volunteers who help distribute supplies. Across the street, people queue calmly with their jerrycans for petrol.
Some people are still too shocked to express the terror of their ordeal, let alone face the uncertainty of their future, Kobari explained.
"Some people lost their whole families, they lost everything," she said.
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