Firefighter's video shows terror as killer waves hit Japan
'I didn't expect it to become a really bad tsunami,' said Firefighter Yuichi Owada
ABC Premium News
RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan — Like the firefighters who fell in the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Japan is now mourning hundreds of firefighters who died trying to save lives in the March earthquake and tsunami.
Many died trying to shut sea gates as the massive waves thundered towards the shore.
In the town of Rikuzentakata, 49 firefighters were swept to their deaths by waves more than 13 metres in height.
One of the survivors has shown ABC's AM program an extraordinary video of how he escaped the killer waves.
At first, there is little urgency and even laughter as firefighter Yuichi Owada and his comrades come to shut the gate to Rikuzentakata's imposing six-metre sea wall - built to see off the ocean's most violent surges.
It is only minutes after the earthquake and they have been told a tsunami is coming, but all they see is a small sea surge.
But the laughter melts away when they see what is thundering in behind it.
"Run away, run away," they scream. "The tsunami is coming over the wall."
"I didn't expect it to become a really bad tsunami," Mr Owada said. "I just couldn't imagine it sweeping over the five-metre breakwater."
But that is exactly what it did.
Mr Owada's video shows the sea beginning to rise rapidly as the firefighters realise that if they stay where they are they will be engulfed.
"I started to run away from the breakwater, because I could see the mast of a ship looming up behind it. I thought I was about to die," he said.
At one point, Mr Owada suddenly stops pointing his camera at the advancing ocean and begins to run.
The picture fades to black but he is still recording as he makes it to his fire truck and takes off up the hill.
"The tsunami is coming over the breakwater, please evacuate to higher ground," Mr Owada can be heard yelling in warning.
Forty-nine of his comrades would be swallowed up by the wave. Along the entire coast, 284 firefighters were swept to their deaths.
Aspiring local politician and volunteer firefighter, Toshiki Fukuda, was to survive, although his wife would not.
He says his life has been turned upside down.
"Here is an email from my wife I received after the earthquake and just before the tsunami hit," he said.
"She says she's OK and she's evacuating to the park. This was the last message from her."
He later found her body in a makeshift morgue. But together with his three children, he is vowing to rebuild his life and resurrect his town.
"I like this town. I want as many people as possible to continue to live here," he said. "I think I am responsible for handing over this town to the next generation."
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