2 missing town workers used their last words to save lives

MINAMI-SANRIKUCHO, Miyagi -As the March 11 tsunami approached, two town employees in Minami-Sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture, stuck to their posts, urging residents to take shelter from the oncoming wave over the public announcement system.

When the waters receded, Takeshi Miura and Miki Endo were nowhere to be found. The two are still missing despite a tireless search by their families.

"A 10-meter tsunami is expected. Please evacuate to higher ground," Miura, 52, said over the loudspeakers on the day. An assistant director of the municipal government's risk management section, he spoke from the office's second-floor booth with Endo at his side.

About 30 minutes later, the huge wave hit land. "Takeshi-san, that's it. Let's get out and get to the roof," one of Miura's colleagues recalled telling him.

"Let me just make one more announcement," Miura told him. The colleague left for the roof and never saw Miura again.

When the disaster hit, Miura's wife Hiromi was working in an office about 20 kilometers north of her husband's workplace. She returned home and then took refuge on a nearby mountain, exactly as her husband's voice was telling her to over the broadcast system. But the next thing she knew, the broadcasts had stopped.

"He must've escaped," Hiromi told herself. But she was not able to get in touch with Takeshi and when the community broadcasts returned the next day, it was a different voice. "He's not the type of person who asks someone else to do his job," Hiromi recalled thinking. The thought left her petrified with worry.

On April 11, a month after the earthquake, Hiromi was at the town office searching for anything that would help her find her missing husband. She stood among the debris, shouting his name as she cried. "I had a feeling he'd come back with a smile on his face and say, 'Phew, that was hard.' But it doesn't seem like that's going to happen," Hiromi said as she looked up through the rain at the building's wrecked skeleton.

"Every time I eat a warm meal or sleep in a warm futon, I feel so bad that you can't. Your voice saved so many people's lives. You did such a great job," Hiromi said.

Endo, 24, was manning the microphone, warning residents about the tsunami until she was relieved by Miura.

On the afternoon of March 11, Endo's mother, Mieko, was working at a fish farm on the coast. While she ran to escape the tsunami, she heard her daughter's voice over the loudspeakers. When she came to her senses, Mieko realized she could not hear her daughter's voice.

Mieko and her husband Seiki visited all the shelters in the area and picked through debris looking for their daughter.

Endo was assigned to the risk management section just one year ago. She was married in July and was looking forward to choosing a wedding dress for her reception scheduled for September.

Many local people have thanked Mieko, saying her daughter's warnings saved their lives. But she wishes things could have been different.

"If the office was on higher ground, the alert could've reached more people and my daughter could've been saved," she said.

"I want to thank my daughter [for saving so many people] and tell her I'm proud of her. But mostly I just want to see her smile again," Seiki said.

The town's risk management section has five employees. In addition to Miura and Endo, the section's chief died in the disaster.

The town is planning on preserving the tsunami-hit office as a symbol of the disaster.

"We want to keep the government office as a symbol that will tell later generations about our experience in the tsunami. We'll also build a memorial to the dead with places for flowers," Minami-Sanrikucho Mayor Jin Sato said.

Since the disaster, 105 loudspeakers from the community broadcast system have been located. Town officials said they would restart broadcasts with about 60 of them soon.


Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: AFP & Reuters)
For more photos, click here.