HIROSHIMA, Japan: Charred bodies bobbed in the brackish waters that flowed through Hiroshima 70 years ago this week, after a once-vibrant Japanese city was consumed by the searing heat of the world’s first nuclear attack.
The smell of burned flesh filled the air as scores of survivors with severe burns dived into rivers to escape the inferno. Countless hundreds never emerged, pushed under the surface by the mass of desperate humanity.
“It was a white, silvery flash,” Sunao Tsuboi, 90, said of the moment when the United States unleashed what was then the most destructive weapon ever produced.
“I don’t know why I survived and lived this long,” said Tsuboi. “The more I think about it… the more painful it becomes to recall.”
Seven decades since the attack, the city of 1.2 million people is once again thriving as a commercial hub, but the scars of the bombing — physical and emotional — still remain.
It was 8:15 am on August 6, 1945 when a B-29 bomber called Enola Gay flying high over the city released Little Boy, a uranium bomb with a destructive force equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT.
Just 43 seconds later, when it was 600 meters from the ground, it erupted into a blistering fireball burning at a million degrees Celsius.
Nearly everything around it was incinerated, with the ground level hit by a wall of heat up to 4,000 degrees Celsius — hot enough to melt steel.
Stone buildings survived, but bore the shadows of anything — or anyone — that was charred in front of them.
Gusts of around 1.5 kilometers a second roared outwards carrying with them shattered debris, and packing enough force to rip limbs and organs from bodies.
The air pressure suddenly dropped due to the blast, crushing those on the ground, and an ominous mushroom cloud rose, towering 16 kilometers above the city.
About 140,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the attack, including those who survived the bombing itself but died soon afterwards due to severe radiation exposure.
Tsuboi, then a college student, was about 1.2 kilometers from the hypocenter and was literally blown away by the blast and blinding heat.
When he picked himself up, his shirt, trousers and skin flapped from his burned body; blood vessels dangled from open wounds and part of his ears were missing.
Three days after Hiroshima, the US military dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing some 74,000 people.
The twin bombings dealt the final blows to imperial Japan, which surrendered on August 15, 1945, bringing an end to World War II. AFP