NIIGATA – Yuta Minagawa, 2, who was rescued after spending four days in a car buried by an earthquake-triggered landslide in Niigata Prefecture, was released from a hospital and returned home Friday.
His mother, Takako, 39, and 3-year-old sister, Mayu, were killed in the landslide, which swept their car off a road in Nagaoka on Oct. 23. The boy was rescued 92 hours later. Mayu’s body has yet to be recovered from the flattened vehicle, which remains partially buried along a steep slope.
Yuta, who turns 3 on Nov. 21, left Nagaoka Red Cross Hospital together with his 37-year-old father, Manabu, who repeatedly voiced his thanks to hospital staff and reporters.
“I want him to be happy for the sake of his mother and sister, who didn’t make it,” the father said in a statement.
Clutching a teddy bear, Yuta waved to well-wishers from the taxi that later took him to his home in Uonuma in the prefecture.
His head injury has almost healed, but there is a need for continued psychological support, the hospital said.
During his hospitalization, Yuta reportedly spoke of “being distressed because the car broke down.” He apparently remembers the accident and being buried by the landslide, hospital officials said.
They said he seemed curious about the fate of his mother and sister.
Hospital officials said it was better for the boy to be released quickly because a prolonged hospitalization could cause further psychological stress.
The hospital said the boy frequently woke up in the middle of the night, looking scared. But he is not afraid in the night, it said.
“The boy experienced incomparable fear, and lost his mother and sister. It may take more than one can imagine for him to heal,” Katsumi Torigoe, head of the hospital’s pediatrics department, told reporters.
Also on Friday, pupils of an elementary school in the village of Yamakoshi, Niigata Prefecture, whose residents all evacuated last month after the powerful earthquakes hit the region, reunited with friends and teachers for the first time in two weeks.
Eighty-three of Yamakoshi Elementary School’s 86 pupils gathered at an elementary school in Nagaoka, whose classrooms they will use from Monday.
All of Yamakoshi’s residents were forced to evacuate after the first quakes hit the area Oct. 23.
“I am delighted to see that all my friends are fine,” fourth-grader Tatsuki Igarashi said.
The three other pupils of Yamakoshi’s sole elementary school have been temporarily transferred to different elementary schools, school officials said.
Train removal work
East Japan Railway Co. said Friday that it will resume work next week to remove a derailed bullet train that has been blocking an elevated section of the Joetsu Shinkansen Line since powerful earthquakes hit the Chuetsu region of Niigata Prefecture last month.
JR East said the work to remove the derailed train near Nagaoka Station will resume Wednesday and hopefully be completed by Nov. 19.
The railway started using cranes to move the derailed cars — each weighing about 48 tons — on Oct. 27, but suspended the effort when the region was hit by a strong aftershock. JR East has said it would be at least several weeks before bullet train service can be fully restored on the line, which links Tokyo and Niigata.
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