Last updated at 9:09 AM on 16th March 2011
Four days after the deadly tsunami swept through her village, picking up her house and carrying it for hundreds of yards, a 70-year-old woman was found yesterday – still inside.
She was still clinging to her furniture as tightly as if it were her life.
Her remarkable survival amid a scene of absolute devastation is yet one more ‘great escape’ that has brought hope to hundreds of thousands who wait for news of their missing loved ones.
Joy: Two young schoolboys prepare to hug each other after they realise each other is safe at a school in the north east of Japan
Memories: A fireman looks through a family photo album he discovered among the ruins of a building in the town of Otsuchi
Success: Rescuers yesterday pulled a 20-year-old man from the wreckage in the town of Ishimaki, while a four-month-old baby was reunited with her parents on Monday after she was found crying in the debris
Emotional reunion: A woman greets Yuki Yamazaki, 3, as he is reunited with his mother for the first time in four days at a shelter
The grandmother, shivering with cold, her face bruised, was still able to smile at her rescuers who had arrived in Soma village from the Osaka fire department.
The team had arrived to help in what they expected to be a search for bodies, rather than in any real hope of finding anyone still alive.
So when they entered the badly damaged house, perched so far from its original position, they were stunned to find the lady inside.
‘We were very surprised,’ said fire department spokesman Yuko Kotani.
Doing what she can: Five-year-old Neena Sasaki carries some of the family belongings from her home that was destroyed
Grim task: A survivor looks through the wreckage of her home for anything she can salvage while another survivor shows off family photographs she managed to pull from the rubble
Break in: Two men who discovered a safe among the rubble try to jimmy it open us. Both said it was theirs and that it was washed way from a restaurant they owned when the tsunami struck
She added: ‘We were looking for victims, not really survivors.’
The woman was wrapped in blankets and carried by four men through the rubble of her village to a stretcher, before being taken to hospital.
‘She was suffering from hypothermia but appears to be OK otherwise,’ said Miss Kotani.
It was not the only remarkable rescue yesterday – a 20-year-old man was found lying amid the rubble of the devastated town of Ishimaki in the hard-hit Miyagi province.
Evacuation: A clearly distressed elderly resident from the city of Hachinohe is helped from his home by soldiers
A mother and her daughter who said that there was nothing left of their home pick their way through the mud and debris left behind by the tsunami
He appeared too traumatised to discuss his ordeal in detail but said: ‘I was washed away by the tsunami, but I’m all right.’
The two rescues four days after the tsunami, when the chances of finding anyone alive seemed to have plummeted, came the day after searchers found a four-month-old baby girl crying in the rubble of her devastated town of Ishinomaki.
She was later reunited with her grateful parents, who told rescuers they thought they would never see her alive again.
Search: A British team of aid workers, part of 220 who are already in the area, look for any survivors under the roof of a destroyed home in Ofunato
Rescuers: British workers make their way through the debris to the scene of their next rescue attempt in Ofunato
The baby’s rescue was a story that touched hearts around the world – and left the hundreds of thousands in emergency shelters along Japan’s north-east coast praying that similar good news would come about their own missing loved ones.
Shivering as an icy blast swept over the region – bringing snow to higher ground and plunging temperatures to two or more degrees below centigrade – the homeless wonder what will become of them.
‘What do we do next?’ asked a young woman.
Clean up: A woman holds a broom as she prepares to start searching through the rubble of her home
Squatting amid the ruins: A woman cooks for her family in front of their devastated house in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture (left) while an older survivor swaddles herself in blankets and gloves at makeshift shelter at Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture
Not so lucky: People carry the body of a victim through debris in Kesennuma, Miyagi, northern Japan
‘Will someone give us a new house to live in? ‘We have lost everything – who will replace it?’ But the biggest question of all was how many of those listed as missing might never return.
Some 15,000 people were rescued in the first two days after the tsunami – including an elderly woman found in a swept-away car and a man who had drifted out into the Pacific Ocean on the wreckage of his roof – but as time has gone by the number of those found alive has dropped dramatically.
Rescuers say that the bitterly cold weather that has soared across Honshu Island, the main body of Japan, will greatly lessen the chances of survival of people who might be lying trapped in water.