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Commemorative family photo taken around 1945. Toshie is second from right at the top. Her father, Mitoshi, is at center left. (provided by Toshie Uematsu)
The atom bomb one month, followed by a major landslide the next
Toshie Uematsu (female, 79 years old)
Edajima City,Hiroshima Prefecture
By Masami Nakagawa (female)
Scene of the cleanup by all the residents after the great flood. The building in the upper right is the Kirikushi National School. (provided by Masami Kato)
On September 17, 1945, the Makurazaki Typhoon struck an area of Hiroshima damaged only a month earlier by an atomic bomb. The typhoon took 2,558 lives, 145 of whom were lost when it triggered a landslide in Etajima-cho, in the Kirikushi district of Etajima Island, south of Hiroshima City. Toshie Uematsu (79), who lives in the Kirikushi district and is vice-chair of the Association of Victims of the Atomic Bombing in Etajima City, lost her father and younger sister in what became known as the Kirikushi Flood.
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"We ran a cafeteria and fishing goods store in Kan'on Honmachi 1-chome in Hiroshima before the war. My dad, Mitoshi Hiraki (who died at age 37), started the shop. On August 5, 1945, my mom, six months pregnant and with four children, was visiting her hometown of Kirikushi to prepare for evacuation to avoid any bombings in Hiroshima. The next morning we waited on a pier in Kirikushi for a boat to make the trip back to Hiroshima, where my dad had stayed behind (the only one in our family to do so). As we waited, we witnessed the tremendous flash and boom of the atomic bomb. When the boat got to Ujina, we were told that Hiroshima was in a terrible state and that everyone was dying, and they wouldn't let us leave the boat. The town continued burning. The following morning, August 7, we once again returned by boat to Ujina."
The family shop, Hirakiya, was about 1.6 kilometers [1 mile] southwest of the hypocenter of the atom bomb, near the Kan'on Bridge on the Tenma River. According to Hiroshima City records of damage caused by the atomic bomb, the area around Kan'on Honmachi 1-chome at the time had 320 households with 1,200 people. The town was destroyed by fires caused by the bombing and about 70 percent of the people there were injured or killed.
"My mother walked with three of her children from the pier at Ujina to Kan'on Honmachi. There were soldiers all around. We asked how to get where we wanted to go, but I don't remember much. We had had a big house, but when we arrived home around dusk no trace of it remained, and we all sat down in the ruins and sobbed uncontrollably."
"Eventually we were reunited with my dad in Koi, where my grandmother lived. He was burned all over and skin hung from his body. Seeing him, my little sister cried out, "That's not Dad!" and once again broke down in tears."
"Dad was a high-ranking member of the civil defense unit, and had been on his way home after responding to an earlier air raid alert that was later cancelled, when he became a victim of the atom bomb."
"A few days later we traveled to Ujina from Koi in a large two-wheel cart, then took the boat back to Kirikushi. My mom checked my dad into Yamazaki Hospital on the Hasegawa River (which flows through the center of the district) and stayed at the hospital every day and night, caring for him."
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A March 1945 census of the Kirikushi district counted 910 households with about 4,200 residents. After the bombing, refugee centers set up at Yamazaki Hospital, national schools, and temples were serving about 400 people.
"Soldiers with severe burns were being cared for in tatami-mat rooms in schools and in "homefront" buildings constructed as part of a program to rally support for the war. At the hospital, we used uchiwa (rounded, handheld fans) to help chase the flies away. They would leave maggots - not really something I want to remember."
"Once September started it rained for days on end. One day, after I had brought some food to the hospital, Mom said, "It's raining so much, you don't have to stay tonight," so I returned home."
"My three-year-old sister had remained at the hospital with my parents and later that night all three of them were swept away in a great landslide. The next day my mom made it home, looking like a ghost, her clothes in tatters. She had somehow managed to hold onto a tree branch or something. My dad and my little sister were later found dead."
Earlier on the afternoon of September 17, the Makurazaki Typhoon made landfall at Makurazaki in Kagoshima Prefecture, at one point with wind gusts up to 75.5 meters per second [271.8 kph or 168.9 mph]. According to a monument at Otoshi Jinja Shrine in the Kirikushi district, the great flood struck at about 8 p.m. that evening and in an instant washed away 91 houses, including Yamazaki Hospital.
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For 30 years, Toshie worked at the old Etajima Town Hall and, after retiring, began talking about her experience with the atomic bomb. She joined the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers, and in May 2010, on the occasion of the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), she told her stories at the United Nations Headquarters and at other venues in New York City.
"Mom is 103 years old and doing fine, but even now no one is allowed to mention the atom bomb or the tremendous flash and boom they witnessed that day. I don't want to think about it either."
But still, she feels strongly about the importance of telling people what happened that day.
"We're all going to die one day, so why do we kill each other? We have to share our stories with young people so that they will continue to work for world peace and help put an end to war and nuclear weapons."
* Originally published in Japanese in the series "聞きたかったこと [So tell me... about Hiroshima]," The Asahi Shimbun (Hiroshima morning edition), January 22, 2014.