History's Deadliest Air Raid Happened in Tokyo During World War II and You've Probably Never Heard of ItHistorians in the News
tags: World War II, Japan, Tokyo, B29s, civilian casualties
Tokyo (CNN) - Everywhere she turned, 8-year-old Haruyo Nihei saw flames.
Bombs dropped by the Americans had created tornadoes of fire so intense that they were sucking mattresses from homes and hurling them down the street along with furniture -- and people.
"The flames consumed them, turning them into balls of fire," says Nihei, now 83.
Nihei had been asleep when the bombs began raining down on Tokyo, then a city comprised of mostly wooden houses, prompting her to flee the home she shared with her parents, her older brother and her younger sister.
As she raced down her street, the superheated winds set her fireproof wrap ablaze. She briefly let go of her father's hand to toss it off. At that moment, he was swept away into the crush of people trying to escape.
As the flames closed in, Nihei found herself at a Tokyo crossroad, screaming for her father. A stranger wrapped himself around her to protect her from the flames. As more people piled into the intersection, she was pushed to the ground.
As she drifted in and out of consciousness beneath the crush, she remembers hearing muffled voices above: "We are Japanese. We must live. We must live." Eventually, the voices became weaker. Until silence.
When Nihei was finally pulled out from the pile of people, she saw their bodies charred black. The stranger who had protected her was her father. After falling to the ground, they'd both been shielded from the fire by the charred corpses that were now at their ankles.
It was the early morning of March 10, 1945, and Nihei had just survived the deadliest bombing raid in human history.