The List

Japan's disaster: 5 inspiring survival stories

Even when it seems things can't get worse, true tales of bravery and good fortune are emerging from crisis-struck Japan

There's no shortage of bad news coming out of Japan. The death toll from last Friday's earthquake and tsunami is expected to top 10,000, entire swaths of northern Japan have been left in ruins, and the ongoing nuclear crisis threatens much of the country's population. But, despite the wretched situation, uplifting stories have emerged — offering encouragement to survivors and rescuers who are trying to reunite families and friends. Here, five inspiring incidents:

1. The "tiniest miracle": A 4-month-old survivorThey're calling her the "tiniest miracle." Three days after the quake, rescuers in the town of Ishinomaki heard what sounded like a baby's cry emanating from a pile of debris. At first, they dismissed it  — surely no child could have survived the monster tidal wave that ripped through the town. But the wailing continued, and rescuers soon discovered its source: A 4-month-old baby girl, swaddled in a pink woolen bear suit. Her parents, both of whom survived the disaster, were at a loss to explain how the child avoided being drowned, or crushed by debris.

2. The American survivor who walked for 20 hours to find his girlfriendZack Branham, a 24-year-old American teacher, survived last week's disaster in the northern town of Kuji, but soon discovered the nearby town where his girlfriend lived had taken a direct hit from the tsunami. The Tennessee native walked four miles across near-impassable, quake-ravaged terrain — a feat that took him 20 hours — to find his girlfriend. The pair were reunited, and plan to stay in Japan to help with the recovery.

3. The man rescued nine miles out to seaThe devastating tsunami that hit the northeast coast of Japan sucked entire towns out to sea, leaving thousands unaccounted for. But 60-year-old Hiromitsu Shinkawa was fortunate enough to survive being pulled out to the ocean depths, and clung to the shattered roof of his house for two days. Rescuers on a naval destroyer spotted him floating amid the debris some nine miles away from the shoreline.

4. The family reunited by CNNFive days after the quake, a worried American family whose son was missing in Japan was reunited, live on CNN. The son, Paul Fales, 25, had been stuck on Oshima island after the quake, and was unable to return to the remains of his home in Kesennuma. He was approached by CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who agreed to let him use her satellite phone to tell his parents he had survived. Coincidentally, his parents had already contacted Anderson Cooper's show to tell him about their missing son. Fales and his parents were soon reunited, via satellite phone, live on the air.

5. The Japanese student who found her family on YouTubeAkiko Kosaka, a Japanese student in California, had already given up hope that her family had survived the disaster. It had been four days since the earthquake, and her family lived in a coastal village just miles from the epicenter. But a friend browsing YouTube news videos saw one in which Kosaka's sister appeared, holding a sign saying "We all survived," and asking journalists to let her sister in America know she was OK. "I've watched the video maybe 50 times," an emotional Kosaka told CNN.

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