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HindustanTimes Fri,25 Jul 2014

World

57-year-old Japan widower dives tsunami waters to bring long dead wife home
AFP
Onagawa (Japan), March 09, 2014
First Published: 19:47 IST(9/3/2014)
Last Updated: 20:07 IST(9/3/2014)
Yasuo Takamatsu prepares to dive into the water to find his long dead wife's body (AFP photo)

Yasuo Takamatsu, 57, grunts with the effort of hoisting a scuba diving tank onto his back, as he prepares to step into the cold waters off Japan's tsunami-ravaged coast to look for the body of his wife, one of thousands still missing three years on.
 
A swell lifts the wooden boat as he tugs on an over-sized rubber dry-suit that will protect him from the chill when he sinks into the murky, March-grey Pacific Ocean, just days before the anniversary of the disaster.

"She was a gentle and kind person," said Takamatsu. "She would always be next to me, physically and mentally. I miss her, I miss the big part of me that was her."  

Takamatsu, a bus driver by trade, was never a natural candidate for learning to scuba dive and was worried he would not be able to do it.

But he feels driven to the water when he thinks about the last time he heard from his wife Yuko, before the nearly 20-metre (66-foot) wave engulfed her.

In a text message sent at 3.21 pm, half an hour after a huge undersea earthquake shook Japan on Friday, March 11, 2011 and unleashed a towering tsunami that traveled with the speed of a jet plane towards the Japanese coast, Yuko said simply: "I want to go home".

"That was the last message from her," he said.

The 57-year-old bus driver started taking scuba diving lessons in November to find his wife who is still missing after the 3/11 tsunami. (AFP photo)


"I feel terrible thinking she is still out there. I want to bring her home as soon as possible," he said.

Weeks later, while scouring the area, bank workers found Yuko's mobile phone and handed it back to Takamatsu.

He dried it off and fired it up to see that she had written a text message he had never received, at almost exactly the time the water was thought to have reached the roof of the bank.

"'Tsunami huge'. That was all she wrote in the very last one," he said.

Within minutes of the tsunami striking, communities were turned to matchwood, and whole families had drowned.

When the waves subsided and the water rushed back out to sea, it took homes, cars and the bodies of thousands of the people it had killed.

Officially, more than 15,800 are known to have died in the disaster, Japan's worst peacetime loss of life. Another 2,636 are listed as missing.

Yasuo Takamatsu jumps into the ice-cold sea water with a diving tank on the back from a boat in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture (AFP photo)


No-one thinks they will ever turn up alive, but for the bereaved, it is important to be able to find their bodies and finally lay them to rest.

More than 800 people were lost in the small fishing town of Onagawa alone, of whom more than 250 are still missing, including Takamatsu's wife, Yuko, then 47.

Minutes after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, Yuko and a dozen of her colleagues at the local bank went up to the rooftop of the building, aware that a tsunami was rushing ashore.


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