'People no longer looked like human beings'

A day before the United States dropped the world’s first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima, Akie Yoshikawa remembered the sky was full of American B-29 bombers and they were flying like “swallows”.

But she was not particularly concerned. There was a war going on and she was more concerned that her brother-in-law was about to go on a suicidal kamikaze mission.

On the fateful morning of August 6, 1945, Yoshikawa, then 21, was walking along with her mother just four kilometres from the centre of the blast.

“It was a very hot day. Just when I was about to open my parasol, I saw a huge flash,” Yoshikawa said.

At 8.15am, the nuclear bomb exploded 580m above Hiroshima, killing more than 140 000 people.
The surface temperature near the hypocentre reached as high as 4 000°C.

“I immediately called for my mother and then lost consciousness. I woke up only to realise both of us had fallen into irrigation ditches,” she said.

As a wartime public worker, Yoshikawa was trained to help the wounded in case of US military attacks and she went straight to a nearby elementary school, which became a makeshift shelter after the bombing.

It would be years before Hiroshima survivors would learn exactly what had happened—that they were the first victims of the most apocalyptic weapon ever devised.

“I knew something really terrible had happened. But what I saw at the elementary school was just indescribable. I felt like I landed in a living hell,” she said.

“People no longer looked like human beings. So much of their skin was dangling and their faces were totally disfigured due to severe burns.”

After the initial nuclear blast, the air pressure momentarily dropped so low that human eyeballs and internal organs burst out.

The explosion destroyed almost all wooden houses within two kilometres of the hypocentre.

About an hour afterward, the school was full of A-bomb victims who arrived from central Hiroshima on foot to seek refuge from the nuclear carnage.

“I helped them lie on the grass and gave them water but they kept saying ‘water, water and water.’ Although I had received emergency aid training, there was nothing I could to help them,” she said.

Yoshikawa did not lose any family members in the nuclear attack and said she holds no particular grudge against the United States today.

But her friend, 85-year-old Fumiko Oki, said 60 years have done nothing to quell her bitterness toward the United States.

“I was walking with my father near central Hiroshima and suddenly the sky flashed above us. I tried to go home but couldn’t walk due to the powerful blast,” Oki said.

“When I got home, I found my sister beneath fallen pillars. She was already dead,” she said in a barely audible voice.

Oki then went out to the flattened city to look for her mother and her banker brother while noticing her hair started falling out, a symptom of the radiation and heat rays.

“I finally found my mother lying at a department store. She was covered with bloody faeces and died a few days later. Soon after her death, my father died. My brother remains missing today,” Oki said with tears welling up her eyes.

“I was suddenly left alone and cried all the time. I will never forgive America for having ruined my life,” she said.

Yoshikawa and Oki said they wanted the world to know how much Hiroshima had suffered in the atomic bombing.

“It was not just a few people. So many people died in agony and pain,” Yoshikawa said.

Oki agreed. “This should never happen to anybody. I always pray for lasting peace.”

Oki seemed at a loss for words. Yoshikawa reached out and held her friend’s hands, saying: “We all have to live on behalf of the dead.” - Sapa-AFP

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