fear of typhoons

Here is an excerpt from this article in today’s NYTimes called “Giants of the Heartland.” It is about a Japanese-American sculptor, Jun Kaneko working in Omaha making gigantic ceramic sculptures. Kaneko related a fascinating account of surviving a typoon in Japan, which he says left him with little fear of anything. It sounds like a fairy tale. It gave me chills to think of a drowning arm grabbing Kaneko’s hand in the pitch blackness.

“In September 1959, when he was 17, the strongest typhoon ever to hit Japan struck Nagoya, where his family lived. It was the middle of the night, and thousands of people, caught in their sleep, died within minutes.

“Did you ever hear of a tatami mat?” he asked. “Well, they float.”

I needed a second to grasp the point. The water rose so quickly that people sleeping on the mats found themselves crushed against their own ceilings and drowned. Below sea level, the Kanekos’ neighborhood consisted mostly of old wood houses, which collapsed, but the Kanekos’ modest house happened to be concrete, and the family was able to scramble to a small room on the second floor before the water overtook the first one. “There were fish swimming in the living room,” Mr. Kaneko remembered.

The water rose to just below the second-floor windowsill. “And for some reason I decided to stick my hand out the window, into the water,” he continued. “Suddenly — it was pitch black so I couldn’t see anything — somebody grabbed my hand.”

He pulled. His father, finding a body dragged inside, rushed to the window, stuck his own hand out, and another drowning body latched onto him. “We kept sticking out our hands and pulling them in,” Mr. Kaneko said. Altogether they fished 36 strangers from death, later fashioning a raft from debris to go get supplies, and eventually boarding everyone in the house for two months.”

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