Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Christchurch earthquake: Soccer-lover loses leg but survives

Kento Okuda. Photo / Supplied
Kento Okuda. Photo / Supplied

"I have lost a leg. They had to cut it off to save me."

Those were the first words Japanese student Kento Okuda said to his mother over the phone after being rescued from the rubble of the Canterbury Television building on Wednesday morning.

Despite the shocking news, Mr Okuda's mother considers herself really lucky, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

"I am looking forward to receiving him when he comes home, but I cannot celebrate because only my son has been rescued," said the mother, who was not named in the report.

"As a mother, I can't help but feel for the other parents who have children who are still missing," she said.

Mr Okuda was among a group of about 30 students from Kyoto, Tokyo and Toyama who came to Christchurch this month to study English at King's Education language school.

The 19-year-old, who was shown giving the "victory" sign from his hospital bed in the Japanese report, is recovering in Christchurch Hospital.

"We were having lunch, there was major shaking and suddenly, the floor fell," Mr Okuda told the newspaper.

"Everyone around me were saying they felt pain as we fell downwards and then I realised we were in total darkness. My right leg was pinned down by something heavy and I couldn't move."

He said he called his brother in Japan from his cellphone to inform the Japanese Embassy where they were.

"I panicked at first but a teacher encouraged us and we also told one another 'We will survive this and go back to Japan together'."

Rescuers had to amputate his crushed leg to free him.

A friend said Mr Okuda was the captain of the Toyama Hokubu High School soccer team and had dreams of playing for the Japanese national team.

"Soccer is Kento's first love and losing his leg has shattered his dream of playing professional football or playing for Japan," said the friend, who did not want to be named.

As of yesterday afternoon, 27 other Japanese nationals were still missing, said the Consul-General of Japan, Hachiro Ishida.

Families and relatives of the missing Japanese were waiting anxiously for news and the embassy in New Zealand was fielding hundreds of inquiries.

Most of the missing were students from a private language college in Toyama in western Japan and a group of 12 parents and teachers from the school arrived in Christchurch yesterday.

"They just want to be here. Many are coming without knowing what has happened to their child," Mr Ishida said.

"We are all clinging on to whatever little hope there is and just praying for a miracle."

Japan, which is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, has sent 70 specialist rescuers equipped with sound detectors, fibre-optic cameras and sniffer dogs trained to enter confined spaces.

Two Japanese still unaccounted for are 37-year-old nurse Miki Hayasaka and 22-year-old student Yuki Hashimoto, another student at King's Education.

Other students who are missing, feared dead, in the collapsed seven-storey structure are from across Asia.

A South Korean brother and sister in their early 20s who attended the same school are missing and local Chinese internet site skykiwi.com yesterday listed the names of eight Chinese nationals who have not been heard from since the earthquake hit.

Cleaning contractor Ma Sia said she was waiting anxiously to hear from her flatmate Cathy Ye, a 27-year-old nursing student from Guangdong province, believed to be under the rubble.

A Philippine Daily Inquirer report said nurse Rhea Mae Sumalpong, one of at least seven missing Filipinos, texted her mother in Australia for help from the building on Tuesday.

"Ma, we are trapped at CTV building. We need help, please rescue us," came her desperate plea.

It is unclear whether Ms Sumalpong was among those who have been rescued from the site.

Police are saying they are certain there is no one still alive under the rubble.

- NZ Herald

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