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英語:“Death toll reaches 176 as rescuers search for survivors of western Japan rains”

Amid rising heat and working against the clock, rescuers continued their search for survivors of record torrential rains that devastated wide areas of western Japan, as the death toll rose to 176 while 86 people remained missing as of 10 p.m. on July 11.

Temperatures exceeded 30 degrees Celsius in some of the hardest-hit areas such as the cities of Hiroshima and Okayama, raising the risk of heatstroke, as firefighters, policemen and Self-Defense Force personnel totaling about 33,000 were deployed to help affected residents and find missing people.

One of them was Tomoya Tanaka, 43, who led a team of disaster response experts from the Osaka Municipal Fire Department to try and save lives in the city of Hiroshima. He visited five locations inside Hiroshima Prefecture in search of survivors from flooding and landslides triggered by downpours as the 72-hour time limit approached. The chance of survival is said to plummet for victims 72 hours after a disaster hits.

Tanaka was in Hiroshima’s Aki Ward to command a rescue operation at a landslide site. A wooden house’s second story remained there with its framework skewed, amid rocks as tall as human bodies. Two hands were sticking out from a mound of mud as if seeking help. Tanaka’s men touched the wrists to feel for a pulse but there was nothing. The rescue workers moved ahead to dig up the victim as they desperately hoped that the person might still be alive.

Two rescuers first dug around the victim to make space for them to enter and excavate further. The workers called out to the person in a loud voice. “I will dig around your hands,” one rescuer said. “Next we will dig around your legs,” followed another. They made every effort not to touch the body, and shoveled out the mud amid burning heat, as Tanaka watched their every move. The disaster response team does not use heavy earth-moving equipment before the 72-hour limit passes.

Five hours after the digging started, the victim was unearthed. The woman, who appeared to be in her 60s or 70s, was deceased. She was in her pajamas, as if she was sleeping.

Silence fell on the scene. Then one of the team members said, “Let’s clean her up.” All the dozen or so team members, thinking about the victim’s family members waiting for her return, washed away the mud that covered the victim’s body, and handed her over to police.

“We were so sorry that we could not help her,” said Tanaka. His team found six men and women in search and rescue operations from July 8 through July 9. None of them were alive.

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日本語:“西日本豪雨 「生きている」信じて…「第1陣」大阪市隊長”

 西日本を襲った豪雨で、緊急消防援助隊大阪府大隊の第1陣として広島県に入った大阪市消防局本部特別高度救助隊長の田中智也さん(43)=消防司令=が被災地から戻り、毎日新聞の取材に救助の様子を振り返った。生存率が急激に低下するとされる発生から72時間、県内5カ所で過酷な現場を指揮したが、生存者は発見できず、無念さをにじませた。

 「頑張りやー」。9日午前、広島市安芸区矢野東7の土砂崩れ現場では、大人の背丈ほどの岩がいくつも転がり、2階部分だけが残った木造家屋がひしゃげた骨格をさらしていた。流れ込んだ土砂からは、まるで助けを待っていたかのように両手が突き出ていた。触れた手首に脈はなかったが「顔を見るまでわからない」。隊員たちは、生存の可能性に一筋の望みをかけた。

 隊員2人が土砂をかきわけ、ようやく入れるスペースを確保すると、「今から手の横を掘っていきますよ」「次は足の辺りを掘りますね」。大きな声で呼び掛け、体に当たらないよう細心の注意を払い、スコップで土砂をはき出していく。全身から汗が噴き出す厳しい暑さの中、隊長として作業の一部始終を見守った。

 72時間以内で基本的に重機は使わないのが一般的だ。救助開始から5時間が経過。60~70代とみられる女性は既に息絶えていた。就寝中だったのだろうか。パジャマ姿だった。

 静まり返る中、しばらくして隊員の一人が言った。「きれいにしてあげようや」。待っている家族の胸中を思い、活動に携わった十数人の隊員全員で、女性の全身を覆っていた土砂をきれいな水で洗い流し、遺体は警察へと引き渡された。

 「間に合わず、残念で仕方がなかった」。田中さんの部隊は8、9両日の捜索で、この女性を含め男女計6人を発見したが、生存者を見つけることはできなかった。

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