Photo/IllutrationHiroshi Nomura uses his rubber boat on July 7 to rescue neighbors in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. (Provided by an acquaintance of Hiroshi Nomura)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KURASHIKI, Okayama Prefecture--Hiroshi Nomura’s main priority after an evacuation advisory was issued was to save his car. Hours later, he lay collapsed from exhaustion on an embankment, having single-handedly rescued 20 of his neighbors from rising floodwaters.

Hundreds of Self-Defense Forces members and firefighters are involved in rescue work in the Mabicho district here, one of the areas hardest hit from the torrential rains that have inundated western Japan. At least 48 people in the district have been confirmed dead.

But that number could have been higher if not for the selfless efforts of Nomura.

Nomura, a 31-year-old company employee, was at home with his father, Shinji, 58, and mother, Yumiko, 57, on July 6 when the downpours started.

An evacuation advisory was issued for Mabicho around 10 p.m., and Nomura told his parents, “We won’t be able to do anything if the car is damaged.”

So he drove his car to a park on higher ground and decided to watch a broadcast of the World Cup there while waiting out the storm.

However, the rain never let up and the situation drastically worsened.

Around 1 a.m. on July 7, Yumiko, who was still at home, called her son to tell him that the water had reached the hood of their other car.

“It’s all over,” she said.

Two hours later, she sent a message through the Line free messaging app that said, “(The water) is now at shoulder level.”

At dawn, Nomura unpacked and inflated a rubber dinghy from his car. He drove to an embankment near his home at 8 a.m., and the morning light revealed that the entire neighborhood was under water.

With the rain still pouring down, Hiroshi rowed the dinghy about 300 meters to his home.

His parents had already been rescued by a boat sent out by city officials. But as Nomura looked around, he saw many of his neighbors were still trapped by the flooding.

An older man was standing on his veranda with water up to his chest. An acquaintance was on the roof of his home, waving a towel to grab someone’s attention. Nomura also saw small children stuck in their homes.

He shouted to one person: “Climb up to the roof and wait there. I’ll return right away.”

The embankment was about a 10-minute boat ride from the stricken homes.

Nomura’s rubber boat could only carry two others, so he had to keep rowing back and forth to pick up his stranded neighbors.

He posted a video on a social networking service and asked his friends to help out.

The disaster had created a number of hazards that threatened to derail his rescue efforts. He had to duck under power lines that were now at eye level, and he had to avoid debris with nails sticking out.

Nomura feared that his boat would start leaking whenever it hit roof tiles.

But he did not stop rowing because he was worried that the person he had left behind would not be there when he returned.

Nomura had not eaten since the previous day and did not have much water to drink. Yet he kept rowing and rescuing people for about four hours.

His hands became numb, and he had difficulty speaking as dehydration and fatigue set in.

Finally, he collapsed but mumbled that he had to reach those still left behind. He then lost consciousness.

By that time, Nomura had rescued about 20 people.

His friends took over and continued using his rubber boat to rescue others until about 7 p.m. Other district residents with rubber boats also joined the efforts.

“I am truly grateful because I don’t think I would have made it through another 20 minutes,” said a 69-year-old man who was rescued by Nomura.

Nomura regained consciousness in a hospital bed. His health recovered, and he left the hospital on July 10.

Nomura knew about the dangers of flooding and landslides, having worked as a volunteer after a series of powerful earthquakes struck Kumamoto Prefecture two years ago.

He was somewhat apologetic for having to be saved by someone else.

But he said, “I am happy if one more person was saved due to my efforts.”