RAHAMA, Miyagi Prefecture—When the tsunami warnings sounded after the massive earthquake that struck Japan on Friday, Masaki Kikuchi sprinted upstairs to grab his sleeping 12-year-old daughter before racing away to escape the rushing waters.
In the backyard tied to a small shed, Mr. Kikuchi left behind two dogs: Towa, a two-year-old Sheltie and Melody, a one-year-old Golden Retriever. Mr. Kikuchi assumed the giant tsunami that flattened his neighbors' homes and whisked away their cars probably killed Towa and Melody too.
Disaster in Japan
Koya Kikuchi, the 20-year-old daughter of Mr. Kikuchi, was riding the bus home from her job at a local restaurant. When the earthquake struck, a power line fell in front of the bus and passengers started filing out.
She rushed to her cousin's house, which was nearby. She asked her cousin to drive her back home because she wanted to go save the dogs that she had begged her father to get. Within a half-mile of her home, police stopped the car. They told Ms. Kikuchi that a tsunami was coming and she could not go any farther.
"I told my cousin that I was going to walk. She told me that I would die if I went," said Ms. Kikuchi. "I was crushed. I thought they were dead."
But Towa and Melody had other ideas. They somehow broke free from the ropes tying them to the shed and ran up outdoor stairs to the second floor of Mr. Kikuchi's house. And then they waited and waited. "I don't know how they survived," said Mr. Kikuchi.
Two days after the earthquake, Mr. Kikuchi ventured out from the evacuation center where his family had reunited unharmed. He walked in rubber boots on the debris-covered roads still covered in floodwater with his feet sinking in the thick mud below.
When he finally got to the house, sidestepping a car that had shifted to block the entrance to the driveway, he could hear the barking.
"I was happy to see them because I had felt badly about leaving them behind," said Mr. Kikuchi. He gave them water, food and brought them inside after cleaning them up.
Mr. Kikuchi knew that his daughter Kayo would want to see Towa and Melody, so on Monday the two of them set out to make the same journey across roads covered in thick mud. "This is where I would walk them everyday," she said.
Looking to her left, there is the roof on a flattened home sitting in the middle of what had been one of Japan's immaculately manicured rice patties.
Her father, wearing a helmet and one-piece jumpsuit from his construction company, walks ahead carrying a red canister in a red Hello Kitty roll-away bag. He said he wants to see if any of the cars have gasoline, which is in short supply in the Sendai area with lines extending for hours.
"Don't slip to the right, because you'll sink and we won't be able to get you out," Mr. Kikuchi said. He pointed out the chest-high water-level marks: "It came all the way up to here."
"I've lived here my whole life, all 49 years, and this is not something I could have ever imagined," said Mr. Kikuchi, climbing mounds of debris while thick mud covered the roads.
On the beaches of Arahama, not far from where the Kikuchi family lives, 200 to 300 bodies were discovered in the days following the tsunami.
Mr. Kikuchi said the earthquake knocked out the power instantly so many people didn't know a tsunami, which arrived 40 minutes after the earthquake, was coming. His immediate neighborhood of 160 homes was spared the heaviest damage.
The Kikuchi family home was turned completely upside down with plates, food and utensils lying in an inch of muddy water on the kitchen floor. He said just down the road, many people died. Luckily, he said, a local elementary school withstood the tsunami and 400 people including the students were evacuated by helicopter.
As soon as Ms. Kikuchi entered the driveway, Towa jumped up and started scratching at the door. She opened the door and the Sheltie with fur still dotted with mud jumped up on Ms. Kikuchi's leg. Melody, who is more reserved, barked excitedly from inside.
"I bet they pooped a lot," shouted Mr. Kikuchi to her daughter who quietly cleaned up after the dogs.
Ms. Kikuchi, her face still red with excitement, said she was so happy to see the dogs, a bit of good news in an otherwise tragic event. "When my father told me they were alive, I was so excited," she said. "It's been so stressful. It's so good to see them"
Mr. Kikuchi and his daughter said they will come back every day to look after the dogs, but they are not going to bring the dogs to the shelter.
"There are lots of people dead and it's too much to ask to bring the dogs," said Mr. Kikuchi. "It would be inconsiderate to other people's sadness."
Source: Wall Street Journal