Amid the silent corpses a baby cried out—and Japan met its tiniest miracle.
On March 14, soldiers from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces went door to door in Ishinomaki, a coastal town northeast of Senda, pulling bodies from homes that had been flattened by the earthquake and tsunami. More accustomed to hearing the crunching of rubble and the sloshing of mud than sounds of life, they dismissed the baby’s cry as a mistake. Until they heard it again.
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They made their way to a pile of debris and carefully removed fragments of wood and slate, shattered glass and rock. And then they saw her: a 4-month-old baby girl in a pink woolen bear suit.
A tidal wave literally swept the baby from her parents’ arms when it hit their home on March 11. Afterward, her parents — both of whom survived the disaster — took refuge in their wrecked house, worried that their little girl was dead. Soldiers managed to reunite the baby with her overjoyed father shortly after the rescue.
“Her discovery has put a new energy into the search,” a civil defense official told a local news crew. “We will listen, look and dig with even more diligence after this.” Ahead of the baby’s rescue, officials reported finding at least 2,000 bodies washed up on the shoreline of Miyagi prefecture. How the child survived drowning — or being crushed by fallen trees and houses — remains a mystery.
(More on TIME.com: See pictures of Japan’s calamitous earthquake.)
In a nation short on good news, other rescues have buoyed morale too. In Iwate prefecture, a devastating tidal wave swept away an elderly woman along with her house — but it didn’t extinguish her will to live.
Rescuers found the 70-year-old alive inside her home on March 15, four days after the wave wiped out much of the region. Osaka fire department spokesman Yuko Kotani told the Associated Press that the woman is receiving treatment at a local hospital. She is conscious but suffering from hypothermia.
Elsewhere, 60-year-old Hiromitsu Shinkawa survived two days at sea by clinging to his floating rooftop. He was discovered 10 miles (16 km) off the Japanese coastline. “Several helicopters and ships passed, but none of them noticed me,” he said after his March 13 rescue. “I thought that was going to be the last day of my life.” (via Daily Mail)