Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going the Extra Mile

One of our traditions here at CSE is whenever disaster strikes, we move swiftly and directly to help our insureds who have been touched by tragedy. In recent years, whenever firestorms rampaged through southern California the top people from our company were there when the embers were still warm, finding our customers and handing them checks to get them started on the road to recovery. We're proud of that.

However, when it comes to going above and beyond the norm in the face of disaster, one man has recently set the bar about as high as it can go. His name is Hideaki Akaiwa.

It was just a few days ago; March 11th to be exact. Mr. Akaiwa was at his office working away on a Friday afternoon. Everything seemed normal.

It wasn't.

You see, Mr. Akaiwa lives in Ishinomaki, Japan. A port city in the north-eastern part of the country.

Where the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck.

Making things worse, a half-hour later the tsunami hit Ishinomaki, washing away cars and buildings like they were autumn leaves floating down the gutter after the rain, completely devastating the entire city. Mr. Akaiwa, having made it to higher ground outside the city, watched helplessly as the torrent of water ripped through Ishinomaki, crushing and sweeping along everything in its path.

Somewhere in the midst of this destruction and horror was Mr. Akaiwa's wife.

To which he reacted in a manner that makes Chuck Norris look like Barney the dinosaur.

Somewhere, somehow he managed to find some scuba gear. The news stories about it don't say exactly where.

Once outfitted, Mr. Akaiwa made it down from where he had been, out of the tsunami's path...

... and dove into it.

Sometimes wading and sometimes swimming, Mr. Akaiwa dodged the broken glass, broken timbers, cars, houses, and most everything else imaginable that was floating in the water. Which was hardly still; it continued to violently rush through the city.

Didn't matter. He was going to find his wife.

Eventually, through sheer tenacity and determination he made his way to what was left of his house, which although still standing was almost totally submerged. He forced his way in and found his wife, alive but trapped on the upper level with barely enough room to breathe. She couldn't have lasted much longer. Mr. Akaiwa would have none of that. He managed to get her free and out of the house.

However, they were hardly safe.

The water was still rushing. It was getting dark. The couple would have to fight their way through the destruction. With only one underwater breathing apparatus they'd need to share.

After all they'd been through, you think they'd let minor annoyances like that stop them?

They made it back to dry land.

And the story doesn't end there.

Mr. Akaiwa was still missing his elderly mother.

For four days he searched through the shelters that had been hastily thrown together. Nothing. The search and rescue teams were doing the best they could, but the water was still so deep in what was left of Ishinomaki progress was extremely difficult at best.

So, Mr. Akaiwa did what by now came naturally.

He put the scuba gear back on and dove into the water.

Yes, he found her. Like his wife had been, she was alive but trapped in the upper level of her house.

Yes, he got her out safely.

And yes, even with his wife and mother now safe Mr. Akaiwa is still diving into the water, looking for survivors.

Now that is going the extra mile.

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