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Friday, May 11, 2012

Engineer who survived tsunami plans floating car

Kyodo

SENDAI — A former Toyota Motor Corp. engineer who almost died in the March 2011 tsunami is developing a floating vehicle in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, to give drivers a better chance of surviving similar disasters in the future.

News photo
Floating a concept: Kenichi Yamamoto of Ishinomaki Senshu University, who is developing a car that can stay afloat for lengthy periods, is seen April 10 in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. KYODO

Kenichi Yamamoto, 63, a science and engineering professor at Ishinomaki Senshu University in Miyagi, was driving through Tagajo when the tsunami crashed into the prefecture.

His car immediately started filling with water, tipping it 45 degrees and stranding him. He barely managed to escape by breaking one of the vehicle's windows by hand, Yamamoto said.

In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake he interviewed 16 other drivers who also survived after their vehicles were swept away March 11. Three reported that their cars immediately started to flood and sank rapidly, while many of the drivers said they only survived by crawling out of shattered windows.

Another was trapped in his partially submerged car overnight and wasn't rescued until the next day, after bailing out water with a garbage container all night.

Yamamoto said that day's events made him "realize the importance of designing a car that can float for long periods."

Noting there has been little scientific research so far on the precise effects of torrential water on vehicles or their most vulnerable spots, Yamamoto said his research team will conduct experiments by sinking cars in a pond and study components still able to function underwater.

Many of the latest car models are already able to stay afloat for a certain period thanks to weight-saving and advanced air-tight features, he said, adding he hopes to further such advances.



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