Photo/IllutrationFloodwaters reach the height of a sign in the area around the town hall in Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, on Oct. 13. (Natsuki Kubokoya)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MARUMORI, Miyagi Prefecture--As Mari Adachi fought for her life in floodwaters unleashed by Typhoon No. 19, her hope slipped away of finding her daughter, who had been ripped from her grasp.

The nursing care worker, 47, first lost hold of her daughter’s hand in the water on the night of Oct. 12 and then let go of what she believed was her leg.

At 8:30 p.m. that night, with water rising around her house, Adachi decided to evacuate.

She had waited to do so, brushing off an earlier alert.

But now her neighborhood was flooded with water from the Abukumagawa river as Typhoon No. 19 approached.

After taking her three grandchildren to her parents’ house located on a hill, Adachi went back.

Adachi then began to drive back to her parents’ home with her 20-year-old daughter, Madoka.

They didn't get far. When she turned left at a crossing, soon after they left, water gushed from every direction, and the vehicle became stuck and they couldn't open their doors.

She quickly opened a window and climbed onto the car's roof, where she saw the entire area was flooded. She spotted the lights of the town hall, but she was swept away in the opposite direction from it.

Adachi said she was terrified as the water pulled her away.

She was unable to stay standing in the gushing stream and fell into the water. Using one hand to grip Madoka’s hand, Adachi swam using her free arm.

But she was unable to keep from being swallowed by the stream and sank deep underwater. Trying to rise to the surface, she accidentally let go of her daughter’s hand.

With both arms free, she managed to surface. She looked around frantically, but she couldn't see clearly since her glasses had been swept away.

She heard Madoka shouting for help repeatedly, and hollered back, but the roar of the rain was so powerful that Adachi soon could no longer hear if her daughter was responding.

Adachi managed to keep floating on her back for about two hours. Just as she was almost out of energy and exhausted from crying, her right side collided with a utility pole. She clung to the pole and climbed it using the bars along its sides.

Then she felt something like a person’s leg strike one of her arms. She thought it was Madoka’s leg and desperately tried to pull it toward her.

In the pitch dark, with no glasses, Adachi couldn't be sure if she was holding onto a dead body, but she clung on until eventually a strong wave made her lose her grip.

Adachi called the police on her smartphone but the sound of the rain and wind made it impossible for them to hear her. She couldn't even tell the police officer on the line where she was. She somehow managed to search her location with her phone and send a screenshot of the information to her husband.

Rain and wind smashed into her body, physically incapacitating her. Twice she had let Madoka go. Thinking this made her so distraught she was tempted to give up and join her daughter. She kept picturing Madoka, who never learned to swim, struggling in the water and crying for Adachi to save her.

At that moment, one of Adachi's neighbors spotted her and tried to rescue her by extending a laundry pole for her to grab onto.

Adachi was out of reach, so she swam toward the pole and lunged for it. Bit by bit, she edged along the pole while her neighbor pulled it in. She was finally rescued. When she looked at a watch, she saw it was 2 a.m. on Oct. 13.

After being evacuated to the town hall, Adachi stayed awake, wracked with guilt thinking about how she had survived while Madoka had not.

“I’m so very sorry,” she said.

But at 9 a.m. that day, her cousin told her Madoka had been found safe.

“I’m so glad. I can’t believe it. It’s a miracle,” Adachi said, wiping away tears.

“I didn’t take the evacuation alert seriously because the area has never flooded before. I should have evacuated earlier. I don’t ever want to have such a long and hard night again,” she said.