NIIGATA – Hana Sasaki, 77, was having dinner with her 74-year-old husband Yokichi, their son and grandchildren when a series of powerful quakes Saturday evening hit their home in the mountainous area of Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture.
The house collapsed from the impact of the temblors. Yokichi and the son escaped on their own, and rescued the grandchildren from the rubble.
But Hana was crushed by a collapsed pillar. She passed away after begging her husband for help.
Neighbors rushed to the house to try to rescue her, but they had trouble pulling her out of the rubble. Yokichi was speechless and could only clasp his hands in prayer, according to witnesses.
“(Hana) was a mild-mannered woman, and she often gave me vegetables that she grew. I wanted to help her,” a 60-year-old neighbor recounted.
Toshio Ogawa, 55, also in Ojiya, died of a broken neck after the roof and a brick wall of his garage collapsed on him. The two vehicles inside were destroyed.
His neighbor, Hironori Kazama, 39, escaped from his house right after the initial quake, and saw several men in the neighborhood using a jack to lift the roof to rescue Ogawa.
Witnesses said he was moaning in pain after being pulled from the rubble, and died shortly afterward.
In the town of Tokamachi, also in Niigata Prefecture, Masahiko Kanezaki, 34, was killed by a concrete wall that fell from a commercial building.
A 63-year-old man who runs a shop nearby said he ran out of his store after the first quake, and then heard a woman cry for help after the second quake. “I rushed to the scene and saw a man collapsed on the ground. Several people used a movie advertisement board as a makeshift stretcher to carry him to a vehicle,” the man said.
Another victim in the town was Daichi Higuma, only 2 months old. After the first series of quakes, his mother put him in a car to take refuge, but the baby suddenly became ill following a strong aftershock, and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
According to the government headquarters set up at the Cabinet Secretariat to deal with the quakes, roughly half of the victims who were reported as of Sunday afternoon were crushed to death in collapsed houses or garages.
Five others died of shock or heart attacks caused by the quakes, while a 76-year-old patient in a hospital in Ojiya died after a tube from an artificial respirator was detached due to the impact of the quake.
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