A MIRACLE survival story unfolded last night in Japan’s tsunami damage zone with an 80-year-old woman and her grandson plucked from the ruins of a house in Ishinomaki.

Japanese television was last night showing dramatic pictures of the two being winched into a rescue helicopter nine days after the tsunami.

Sumi Abe and her grandson Jin, 16, were found amid debris yesterday by police searching the Kadonowaki district of the port town, 40km northeast of Sendai.  Both of them were suffering from hypothermia and were taken straight to Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital by helicopter amid light snowfalls.

The ruined house from where they were rescued was situated about 1km inland, near the Kitakami River.  Police were combing the neighbourhood shouting out and looking for anyone still alive yesterday. About 4pm they heard the grandson responding from the wreckage of a house.

Japanese television reported last night that Jin was sitting on what remained of the house when police spotted him.  He told them his grandmother was buried under debris and they immediately dug her out.  After locating the pair the police called in a fire department’s helicopter to rescue them.

The pair would have endured brutally cold temperatures, with snow blanketing the area last week.  Japanese TV reported last night Mrs Abe and her grandson survived on Coca-Cola and yoghurt.  Pictures of them being unloaded at the hospital were being screened on TV news last night.

An official from the hospital confirmed the two had arrived there yesterday, but provided no further detail on their condition.  “I only had a glimpse of the elderly woman, who had her eyes closed,” he said.  The discovery of the hardy survivors will cheer rescuers who had all but given up hope of finding anyone alive after such a long time in freezing conditions.

One of Jin’s teachers, from a local junior high school, said yesterday: “It’s a miracle.” She wished him a swift recovery.  Ishinomaki, which has a population of 165,000, was one of the towns badly hit by the tsunami. Its mayor said during the week the number of missing there could total 10,000.

The town lies in a broad bay just west of the Oshika Peninsula on the northern coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu. The city’s port was one of the four most badly damaged by the tsunami and no date has been given for its reopening. Despite the carnage in the city, the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital was not severely damaged by the quake or the wave and has remained open, taking in injured survivors from throughout the area.

The tsunami sparked by the earthquake ravaged the northeastern coast, killing more than 8100 people, leaving 12,000 people missing and displacing another 452,000, who are living in shelters.

Fuel, food and water remain scarce for a 10th day.  The government in recent days has acknowledged it was caught ill-prepared by an enormous disaster, which the Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called the worst crisis since World War II.

Contamination of food and water from the evolving nuclear crisis at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant compounds the government’s difficulties, heightening the broader public’s sense of dread about safety.

Consumers are snapping up bottled water amid concerns about food safety.

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