Gap in Debris, Rainwater May Have Saved Elderly Woman; Doctor Describes Rescue as ‘Ray of Hope’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The head of an emergency response team of firefighters from Kyoto Prefecture, center, speaks about the rescue of a woman in her 90s in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Sunday.

A gap in the debris and rainwater may have helped a woman in her 90s survive for about 124 hours under a collapsed house in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, after the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, rescue workers have said.

Firefighters and members of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team joined police officers in rescuing the woman on Saturday, five days after the powerful earthquake on Jan. 1. The rescue came after the 72-hour point, after which survival rates are said to drop sharply.

The woman’s house is located about 3 kilometers east of Suzu City Hall. The first floor of the two-story wooden structure was crushed in the earthquake, and the woman was trapped in a gap only a few dozen centimeters high with her left leg caught between beams.

An emergency response team of firefighters was dispatched to the site upon a request from police, who had been searching for the woman in the collapsed house since Saturday morning. The police team manually removed debris from the upper half of the woman’s body, while the firefighter team did so from the lower half.

When a DMAT doctor arrived at the site shortly after 5 p.m., the woman’s left arm and upper body were just visible, and the rescue workers heard her moaning faintly. She responded when a rescue worker held her hand, so the doctor thought she might be able to survive.

As her condition might change suddenly if the debris was removed all at once, an intravenous drip was administered to give the woman a chance to regain her physical strength. People at the site kept encouraging her, saying, “Hang in there!”

At about 8:20 p.m., the woman was finally rescued and taken to the hospital. She received intensive care at the hospital and recovered to the point where she was able to speak the following morning.

“Sometimes people can survive even after 72 hours if a small amount of water and a certain body temperature are secured,” said Dr. Mototaka Inaba, 44, who is also a member of the nonprofit organization Peace Winds Japan.

Inaba speculated that the woman may have drunk rainwater while trapped.

“This rescue is a ray of hope for the families of people whose safety is unconfirmed,” said the leader of the Kyoto prefectural emergency response team of firefighters.