Iwate hospital chief sacrifices life to secure infirmary's lone satphone
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Iwate hospital chief sacrifices life to secure infirmary's lone satphone

Iwate : Japan | Mar 24, 2011 at 9:23 AM PDT
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Aerial video shows immediate aftermath of 14m tsunami at Fukushima

How much can we sacrifice our lives for the sake of our fellowmen? Here is a touching story of a man I would call a hero. Don't be shy to cry.

A 60-year-old hospital chief administrator risked his life for the good of many during the onslaught of one of the world's most powerful cataclysms to hit Japan's Tōhoku region of the northeast of mainland Honshu on 11 March.

Scheduled to retire by the end of this month, Shigeru Yokosawa tried to secure the only communication means the Takata Hospital in Rikuzen-Takata in Iwate Prefecture—one of the heavily hit areas along with Fukushima and Miyagi—has to the outside world when all the communications were brought down by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Cell phone towers and land lines were cut when the temblor struck making satellite phone the only reliable means to call other medical facilities for emergencies, supplies and help.

Over a hundred people were in the fourth level of the infirmary seeking refuge just after the tremor hit. And then people started shouting a tsunami is coming.

Hospital administrator Kaname Tomioka, 49, was on the third level of the building when he saw a 10-meter tsunami approaching at him.

Tomioka rushed to the staff room at the first level where he saw Yokosawa who was then trying to unhook the satellite phone near the window.

He shouted to Yokosawa, "A tsunami's coming. You have to escape immediately!"

Yokosawa shouted back, "No! We need this no matter what."

Yokosawa successfully freed the phone and gave to Tomioka, who immediately went to the roof top.

After a few seconds, the tsunami hit, wiping everything in its path up to the fourth level. Yokosawa was nowhere to be found.

The remaining medical staff could not get the satellite phone working on the day the tsunami came but when they tried again after they were rescued by chopper two days later, they fortunately made a connection.

Four days after the calamity began, the surviving health workers set up an improvised clinic in a community and continued to serve over 150 patients each day.

As of Tuesday, the satellite phone remains the one and only available means of getting information about patients needing medical care for diabetes, high blood pressure and psychological disturbances caused by the catastrophe.

"It's really helpful that I can still get my medication under such circumstances," said Rigio Kikuchi, 83, a regular patient treated for hypertension.

Sumiko, 60, Yokosawa's wife and son Junji, 32, found him in a morgue on Monday.

They brought his remains back home to Shiwa-cho in Iwate on Tuesday.

Becoming the chief administrator of the hospital two years ago, Yokosawa's staff members praised him for his gentleness and care to patients.

Removing some sand from his face, Sumiko told Yokosawa in her mind, "Darling, you worked hard."

Sumiko believed his husband was alive and thought he had been too occupied at work to contact her.

She said, "I'm proud of all the good my husband did for the people there. Now that his body is at home, his soul should be at rest."

A piece of paper was taped to the satellite phone by someone with this message, "Yokosawa's phone. Our chief is helping us from heaven."

Details of this story here.

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Recently released helicopter video showed immediate aftermath of tsunami at Fukushima. Tokyo Electric Power Company says its nuclear power plants in Fukushima, built on grounds 10 to 13 meters above sea level, were hit by a 14-meter-high tsunami. The company had only expected a tsunami of 5.7 meters at the Daiichi plant and one of 5.2 meters at the Daini. The wave disabled emergency power generators and heat removal pumps at Fukushima Daiichi on 11 March. The loss of these systems left units 1, 2 and 3 in severe trouble that has only stabilised after the write-off of the reactors, which are now being cooled by seawater injection.
Gino C. Matibag is based in Manila, National Capital Region, Philippines, and is a Stringer for Allvoices.
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