Rescued from a sea of fire (with a Tweet).

Miyagi-ken,Japan

When the 9+ magnitude earthquake hit Japan on March 11, 2011, teachers Naoko Utsumi and Koharu Hayashi had to evacuate many kindergarten students who had disabilities. Since the earthquake quickly triggered a major tsunami, they had very little time to get as far inland as possible to a safe community center.

But inland wasn’t far enough: when the tsunami crashed ashore, the water not only reached the building, but rose to the second floor. The children, along with scores of others already there, clambered to the roof. All too soon, the center was surrounded by water and rubble. To make matters worse, something caught fire on the surface of the water, turning the building into an island surrounded by a sea of fire. Just before her mobile phone battery died, Ms. Utsumi emailed her son, Naohito:

“At a community center. Sea of fire.
Maybe this is it. Do our best.”

Naohito, who was 10,000 kilometers away in London at the time, tweeted his mother’s situation and asked for help from anyone who saw the message.

In Tokyo, Shuichi Suzuki saw and retweeted it with a call-out to the Vice Governor of Tokyo, @inosenaoki, in his retweet. The Vice Governor saw it and alerted the Disaster Defence Director of Tokyo’s Fire Department, who happened to be in a nearby office, to send help.

As dawn broke, a helicopter made its way to the community center to look for signs of life. The pilot spotted the huge crowd of stranded people still on the roof. He sent for help, and eventually, several more helicopters took turns rescuing more than 400 people. Everyone made it out safely.