TOKYO. Hiromitsu Shinkawa was pushed out to sea while he clung to the roof of his home after a tsunami engulfed Japan's northeastern coast. For two days, he tried to get the attention of helicopters and ships that passed by - to no avail.
Finally, on Sunday, a Japanese military vessel spotted the 60-year-old waving a red cloth. He was about 15km offshore from the earthquake-ravaged city of Minamisoma, said Yoshiyuki Kotake, a defence ministry spokesman.
Shinkawa told his rescuers that the tsunami hit as he and his wife returned home to gather some belongings after Friday's quake.
"I ran away after learning that the tsunami was coming," Shinkawa said. "But I turned back to pick up something at home, when I was washed away." His wife was swept away, Kotake said.
"Several helicopters and ships passed by, but none of them noticed me," he was quoted by another defence agency spokesman as saying.
Japanese troops used a small boat to pluck him from the ocean. Military officials said Shinkawa was lucky that mild weather and relatively calm seas enabled him to stay afloat for nearly two days, the Kyodo news agency reported.
"I thought today was the last day of my life," it quoted him as saying.
The government has said that at least 1,000 people are believed to have lost their lives in the disaster, and police estimate more than 215,000 people are huddled in emergency shelters.
However, the police chief of Miyagi prefecture said that the death toll was certain to exceed 10,000 in his district alone.