NIIGATA – Rescuers pulled a 2-year-old boy and his 39-year-old mother from the wreckage of their car Wednesday afternoon, four days after it was buried in a landslide triggered by deadly earthquakes that struck Niigata Prefecture.
Yuta Minagawa was found standing in a small space between some boulders and the flattened vehicle at around 2:40 p.m. and was rushed to a hospital in the city of Nagaoka for treatment.
But his mother, Takako, rescued about two hours later, was pronounced dead by hospital officials.
Rescue officials said they saw what appeared to be the leg of the woman’s 3-year-old daughter, Mayu, in the wreckage, but could detect no signs of life. The rescue effort, broadcast live on television until the sun set, continued into the night.
The rescue operation, which was being conducted by Niigata officials, police, firefighters and Self-Defense Forces personnel, began around 1 p.m. Rescuers using electromagnetic equipment detected sounds of a heartbeat about 45 minutes later and also heard a faint cry from the wreckage.
Doctors treating the boy said he was suffering hypothermia and dehydration. He was able to speak with his father, Manabu, 37, and medical staff.
Rescue officials said the mother was found with her legs pinned under a large boulder. The state of her body indicated that she probably died instantly.
The family’s car was discovered Tuesday, virtually covered by mud and boulders. Minagawa and her children went missing in the city of Nagaoka after the temblors rocked the prefecture on Saturday.
The core of the rescue team that found the boy was a special rescue unit of the Tokyo Fire Department set up in the year following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. It brings together the department’s most distinguished firefighters in the areas of rescue technique and physical strength.
Its specific mission is to search for people in landslides and collapsed buildings. The team members were dispatched to the site of the buried car Wednesday morning.
The rescue operation was launched despite a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 shaking the prefecture around 10:40 a.m. The temblor injured at least four people and brought trains and reconstruction work that had just begun to a halt.
The quake, centered in the Chuetsu region, was the fifth earthquake registering a lower 6 on the Japanese intensity scale of 7 to hit the prefecture since Saturday, the Meteorological Agency said.
East Japan Railway Co. began operations in the morning to put a bullet train back on the tracks in Nagaoka after it was derailed in Saturday’s earthquake. But workers and reporters on the elevated tracks were evacuated after the morning aftershock. Operations were suspended indefinitely.
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