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VOICES FROM JAPAN: Stories of the Survivors

Aired March 19, 2011 - 02:30>   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): March 11th, 2011, 2:46 p.m., Tokyo Time. It all started with a devastating 9.0 earthquake. One of the largest in recorded history. The earth moved, the sea swelled, walls of water over four meters high raced ashore, and covered the land, erasing civilization.

Thousands of people are known to be dead with a staggering number still missing. Resources are scarce and nuclear fears under line this already catastrophic tragedy.

As the loss lingers, the strength and resilience of the Japanese people serves to inspire a world, riveted as events unfold.

In the next half hour, we pause and showcase our Japanese affiliate TV Asahi's journalism from ground zero. These are the stories of the survivors. These are the "Voices from Japan."


SUBTITLE: Miyako City.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We were spared. As they say, you die nine times and you get spared once.

I felt that this was an emergency and that we must escape, but my husband is not so mobile. But when that banner was shown on the TV screen, shortly after that, the tsunami started to engulf the surface of the road where we were with this roaring sound.

We wanted to go to the second floor, but we couldn't because my husband not so mobile and we were telling each other, run up, run up, and before you know it, we were immersed in water, up to here. The bed started to go upright. So, we were holding on to the bed. We were fighting for our breath.

I made my husband stand up and together we kept hanging in there, hanging in there because if you let go of each other's hands, we are going to be swept away. So, we kept telling each other we cannot and we won't die here. We kept encouraging each other.

Finally, we were able to go to the second floor of the house. We thought we would die. I would give my husband 100 percent for his effort. It's amazing at such a time you can exert so much strength and we held on to the rail of the staircase.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I heard that the second wave of tsunami was coming, so we tried to run away. The water started to come in. It looked bad, so we started to go to the second floor together. I have a bad leg, so my wife was behind me, cheering me on, saying, one, two, one, two. The voice stopped. So I looked back and she was not there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): What happened to your wife?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's dead. When I went back to get my stuff, she was lying down in the hallway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Yuki Kobiyashi (ph) delivered a baby the day after the earthquake. She returned to her hometown from Tokyo to have the baby.

YUKI KOBIYASHI (ph), SURVIVOR (through translator): I had a checkup in the morning at Miyako hospital. I was told the baby wasn't coming yet. So, I was sent home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Ms. Kobiyashi had a routine of taking walks in the afternoon, looking at the ocean.

KOBIYASHI: So, I held my stomach and prayed to God -- God, please help me. I thought I might die. I didn't want to die here and after I have come this far after 10 months. So I went outside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: A few minutes after that, the walk, a routine walking path was under the black water. Ms. Kobiyashi went to her parents' house on higher ground and barely made it alive.

Ms. Kobiyashi had severe contractions in the middle of the night while the aftershock shook her house.

KOBIYASHI: I talked to the baby in my tummy. Today may not be a good day for you to come out. You might want to stay there. There's so many people injured in the -- and the hospital is strained.

When the baby was born, it was right after I heard that the bodies of 200 to 300 people were washed up. So rather than happiness, I felt a twinge of guilt and I cried. But I'm happy, but it's with mixed feelings.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was saved by stepping on to the debris and climbing up to the roof. I was shaking all over. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I did not expect the wave to reach up to the third floor. So, all six people who were behind me were washed away. I could hear a voice behind me saying, hurry up. Hurry up, but I could not help them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My child was at a kindergarten over that river. So we didn't have time to retrieve him. I hope his teacher was able to evacuate the children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Have you been able to get in touch with the teacher?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's hard to believe almost everything has been washed away, but the fact that we cannot be sure whether the kids are safe --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some people went back to the harbor after the quake, concerned about the ships. His son was one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It looks like he was with another man. That man survived, even though he was injured. But my son was taken away by the waves and we don't know where he is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The friend that survived told him that his son went down another street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he didn't make it. He was pushed by the waves and speculated he was taken by the sea by the receding waves. I'm going to hang in there and look for him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Three days after the quake, back in Miyako City, many people switch shelters, but there was a man who refused to move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My wife has not been found yet. We ran away together but the roof of our house collapsed and came down one meter in front of us. As I came to, I was in the middle of a space where the debris fell. So, I called out her name, but there was no response. And the water was creeping up to here, so I thought that was it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My wife is physically handicapped. We wanted to run away to the back. The volume of water was so high. The car wouldn't move. My daughter and I tried our hardest to push her up to this hill.

My wife was so heavy, I let go of her hand. I think this is the area where it happened. I'm thinking that I might have closure if I keep sitting here. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yesterday, blankets finally arrived. Before that, we were removed the red and white hangings that had been put up for the graduation ceremony and used that in place of blankets. There are a lot of aftershocks, making it very difficult to sleep at night. Even if you fall asleep you get woken up again. So, I haven't really been able to sleep very well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I tried so hard for two days. I had hoped to climb to the second or third floor, but the waves kept coming too quickly. A huge ship would float toward us, a huge one. Houses were getting destroyed by the ships. We're fortunate that our house was spared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Do you have enough supplies?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barely enough for today. I have some water and a few snacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: All 13 of them report that they helped each other, co-workers and friends. They bid one another good-bye now. The 13 who survived saying, "Hang in there. We have lived through this so far. We can do it. Hang in there."



NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And hello from CNN Center in Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen with this breaking news announcement.

A former White House cabinet member has died. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher has died in California. He was secretary of state during President Clinton's first term in office. He died peacefully, we are told, surrounded by family at his home in Los Angeles on this evening, Friday, March 18th.

Warren Christopher was also deputy secretary of state during the Carter administration, and back then in the late '70s and early '80s worked for the release of American hostages that were held in Iran.

Mr. Christopher, we are told, died from complications of kidney and bladder cancer. He was 85 years old.

Plans for a private memorial service are pending and a full obituary will be forthcoming in our next newscast in ten minutes. Again, former White House Secretary of State Warren Christopher dead in California at age 85.

More news in about nine minutes. I'm Natalie Allen in CNN Center.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yes, it kept coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): So, if you stopped running you would have been swept away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) house is barely standing and this is how it looks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): No water comes out of the kitchen faucet or anywhere else in the house anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): All Tatami mats are flipped over?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they're all gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, the water crept up to that point?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite high, maybe over two meters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes, it is. The only consolation I may find in this is that the house is still here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It just so happened that I found myself pressed against the railings on the stairs that go up to the roof of the building and those railings were extremely robust. I was pressed against this railing and there were seven of us in that location. It crossed my mind, if I let go, I would die. Waves were passing over my head. I remember thinking I somehow have to make it through this.

I'm guessing that waves kept going over me for three or four minutes and eventually the waves withdrew. That's when I noticed there were about 30 employees up on the roof. After the waves receded, there were only about 10. All the other employees were swept away. It was terrible experience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Every year, they hold disaster drills for tsunamis of 5.5 meters high, but this tsunami was way beyond this in size.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The city is torn apart. If I had to use one word to describe it, all I can say is it is hell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: In the midst of this destruction, a woman in a wheelchair is brought in. She's 85 years old. She was stuck in her home for three days until she managed to get out and seek help. One of the city's employees discovered her. They are worried she might have broken her hip but she seems all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just have to hang in. It's almost as if everyone who's gone is counting on those of us who survived to revive the city. We've been given this mission, so we need to do our best.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: This is the first day back to school for children at an elementary in Miyako City since the disaster. Although only two-third of the students came to school that day, the school says all the students are safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was so happy. When I couldn't see my friends, I was dying to see them. So, I really wanted to come to school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The school's classrooms and gyms are currently being used as evacuation shelters. The sixth grade graduation was originally scheduled for March 18th. Teachers explained that they can't hold the ceremony. But, of course, the kids understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There's no doubt everyone is concerned about your graduation ceremony. The gym is occupied with many people who have been evacuated so we can't hold the ceremony. What I would like for you to do is try to accept the situation, focus on what you can do now and send yourselves off to middle school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Because of the situation we are facing, I thought we all have to help each other.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL (through translator): That we don't have many water and it's cold at night. I can imagine there are little kids in the evacuation centers and I feel bad for those little babies.