Deaf couple in Miyagi Prefecture unaware of tsunami warning after the earthquake, saved by hearing brother

May 10, 2011

WATANABE Seiji (70) and his wife Katsuko (66), both Deaf, lived with their hearing son (41) and his family in Yuriage in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, a kilo away from the Pacific coast.

When the earthquake occurred, Watanabe was taking a nap. He waked up by big shakes and saw the television set and the table have fallen down in the room.

Watanabe doesn't make a habit to use the Internet or watch a television either. His hearing family members used to give information on the earthquake in sign language. However, they all were out somewhere then.

Watanabe turned on the television, only finding out that it was not available due the electric power failure. He began putting things in order in the house without obtaining information on the earthquake and the tsunami.

The fire fighting group in the loudspeaker van warned the local residents for the shelter from the tsunami in the district immediately after the earthquake. Watanabe and Katsuko were not aware of it.

It was about 15:30. Watanabe's elder brother Toshimasa (73) who lives nearby rushed into his house with his wife and hurriedly moved the hands to convey his message, "What are you doing?! The tsunami is coming now!"
Watanabe got out of the house and saw the sea, realizing how serious the situation was. Black waves have approached. Toshimasa took Watanabe, Katsuko and elderly persons in the vicinity to his car, and drove for the shelter located on the hilltop.

The road got narrow and crowded. The tsunami approaches one after another. People crazily ran away, too. Toshimasa drove as fast as possible before being caught by the black wave, and reached the Natori River Bridge on the east part of Sendai road at last.

They stood on the bridge and saw a frightening spectacle of the swirling jet-black waves that swept away the cars, the ships, the utility poles, and the pine trees.

The Watanabe family was safe. The house was gone by the tsunami, and was found in a place away by about 200 meters six days later.
Watanabe, who was brought up in Yuriage, said, "I never thought of the tsunami coming."

On the day the great disaster occurred, all the neighbors who have cared for the Watanabes did not visit them. There was no people seen around in the neighborhood. Watanabe learned later that many of the neighbors had died.

He said, "A lot of hearing people died, but Deaf people like us survived. I owe my brother."

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