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How tsunami baby became a symbol of hope

A soldier grins as he cradles a tiny baby in a pink blanket, plucked from a wrecked house three days after an earthquake and tsunami flattened much of Japan's north-eastern coastline.

The moment, shown by media around the world, evoked a rare glimmer of hope amid so much destruction and death from the March 11 disasters that killed an estimated 26,000 people.

Weeks later, five-month-old Iroha Ishikawa is now healthy and safe, living at a shelter in a school with her parents in Ishinomaki, 200 miles north-east of Tokyo.

"I'm happy that we were rescued, but there is a lot of sadness behind it -- many families didn't make it," the infant's mother, Yuki Ishikawa, said.

Ishikawa (41) says she was at home with her baby daughter on the Friday afternoon when the magnitude-9 earthquake hit, rattling her home and toppling furniture.


She began packing her car to flee when her husband, Takatoshi, returned from work and said he heard strange noises -- the sounds of a powerful tsunami blasting its way through their neighbourhood near the shore.

The mother grabbed only Iroha and a baby bag as she ran for safety. It had some hot water, two cans of milk, three baby bottles and some nappies in it. They fled to the second storey of a neighbour's house along with the couple that lived there. A minute later the tsunami crashed through the first floor.

"We saw all kinds of things get washed by in the waters -- debris, cars, bodies," she says. "We stayed there for two days with nothing to eat or drink, except for what the baby had."


Two days after the tsunami, the waters receded, and the two men were able to scrounge some food. The group of five was located by soldiers, but then a powerful aftershock sent everyone scrambling for safety. The troops returned the next day.

"The doors of the house were blocked by cars and other debris, so we had to go out through a window. The soldiers helped us out through the window, and that was when the picture was taken," Yuki Ishikawa says.

Since then, the Ishikawas have been living in the school, with father Takatoshi so busy fixing pipes at damaged buildings that he has had little time to clean up their own home.

As for the widely viewed photo, she says it is such a positive image that it masks some of the tragedy of the tsunami.

Iroha's mother says: "I just want people to know the reality of what happened here."