History’s deadliest air raid happened in Tokyo during World War II and you’ve probably never heard of it

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Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT) March 8, 2020

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.

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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. As many as 100,000 Japanese people were killed and another million injured, most of them civilians, when more than 300 American B-29 bombers dropped 1,500 tons of firebombs on the Japanese capital that night.
The inferno the bombs created reduced an area of 15.8 square miles to ash. And, by some estimates, a million people were left homeless.

The human toll that night exceeded that of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year, where the initial blasts killed about 70,000 people and 46,000 people respectively, according to the US Department of Energy.

But despite the sheer destruction of the Tokyo air raids, unlike for Hiroshima or Nagasaki, there is no publicly funded museum in Japan’s capital today to officially commemorate March 10. And while the Allied bombing of Dresden in Germany in February 1945 roused a strong public debate on the tactic of unleashing fire on civilian populations, on its 75th anniversary the impact and legacy of the Japan air raids remain largely unknown.

 

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