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Plucky neighbours pluck man from mud

The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN | Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014

HIROSHIMA - Following the disastrous landslides in northern Hiroshima, some residents rushed to the aid of their neighbours-including a man nearly buried in mud-at their most urgent hour of need.

Mitsue Kanda, 60, is one of those brave residents.

Before dawn on Wednesday, when the landslides occurred, Kanda was having a hard time falling asleep due to the rumbling thunder. Her apartment was on the second floor of the No. 5 building of a prefectural housing complex in the Yagi district of Asa-Minami Ward.

She heard two loud thuds. Then an immense rock crashed into her apartment building.

"Something terrible is happening," she said she thought. "I then decided to check on the No. 1 building, where so many elderly people live."

Kanda, who had been appointed the head of the residents' association at the housing complex in April, often made rounds to the 120 households living in nine buildings.

It was then that she heard someone yelling for help in the apartment of Yoshitsugu Tamaru, a 76-year-old man who lived on the first floor of the No. 1 building.

Kanda screamed at the top of her voice: "All men gather! Help Mr. Tamaru!"

Five men instantly volunteered.

The No. 1 building was located beside the path where the mudflow had swept down. But the rescuers were unable to enter Tamaru's apartment because its entrance was blocked by dirt.

When they managed to get in the apartment via the balcony, they found Tamaru was almost buried in mud. Only his face was visible.

His 50-year-old daughter, who lives with him, said, "I tried to pull him out, but I couldn't move him at all."

In the pitch-black dark, the men waded into the mud, which reached up to their thighs. They managed to create a makeshift foothold using a desk and chair. Carefully, they dragged Tamaru out of the apartment using the balcony. The rescue operation took about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, Kanda visited other apartments to offer comfort to elderly people and couples who were scared and worried.

"I was worried because we didn't know if and when another landslide would occur," said a 27-year-old male resident who helped to rescue Tamaru. "But we all desperately wanted to help [him]."

Tamaru said he was in poor health and had a fever. "I don't know what would have become of me without their help. Thanks to them, I narrowly escaped death," he said repeatedly.

Kanda and Tamaru, together with other residents of the complex, are currently taking shelter at a nearby primary school.

Shortly after the evacuation, Kanda made a list of the complex's residents. She is devastated by the death of an elderly woman who lived alone there.

"There were people I've never met before who extended a helping hand during the rescue," Kanda said. "I'll take this as an opportunity to strengthen ties among residents of the complex."

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