ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture--Quake evacuees give sympathetic looks to a boy who has become a familiar face at evacuation centers in this city ravaged by March 11's quake and tsunami.
But sadly, they cannot offer any information about the names on the handwritten signs he holds up at each center.
The names are of the father, mother, grandmother and two cousins of 9-year-old Toshihito Aisawa. The last time he saw his family members, they were trying to escape from a car being swept away by the massive wall of water.
On March 15, Toshihito visited Kadowaki Junior High School, home to about 2,000 evacuees, for the fourth time since March 11.
He also visited another junior high school and a high school. But no one could provide information to Toshihito that day.
According to the third-year elementary school student, his father, Kazuyuki, picked him up at his school soon after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake hit.
Packed in a minicar, Toshihito, Kazuyuki, grandmother Kyoko, mother Noriko, and two cousins, Yuto and Yuna Shima, headed for Kadowaki Junior High School located on a hill in central Ishinomaki.
As they sped down a trunk road along the port that would take them to the hill, his mother noticed the tsunami bearing down on them.
"A tsunami's coming. Head left, left!" Toshihito recalled his mother screaming, as the wave that seemed much taller than the car loomed outside.
His father tried to escape the roaring water, but the car became stuck in a parking lot. Then the seawater swallowed the vehicle.
Toshihito recalled hearing all sorts of things smashing against the car. The window cracked, and on the spur of the moment, he broke the glass with his bare hands. Grabbing the hand of Yuto, a first-year junior high school student, Toshihito managed to crawl out of the window.
"But then something, probably a tree, came crashing through, and I had to let go," Toshihito said.
He said the voices of Yuto calling to him and his grandmother pleading for help gradually became distant.
The boy soon lost consciousness. When he came to about 30 minutes later, his body was strewn on a piece of wood and parts of his clothes were caught on a bamboo branch.
A man fished him out of the water and gave the boy some clothes.
Toshihito was taken to the family of Mitsunari Kitahara, 64, a barbershop owner with whom Toshihito's family was acquainted.
"Stop worrying so much. Come back home as soon as you can," Kitahara repeatedly told the boy.
"Yes, I'll do as you say. I won't worry about it," Toshihito said, although his face betrayed his show of bravery.
Much of the city center remains under water. But Toshihito is determined to find his family.
"When the roads clear up, I'm going to check our home," he said.
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