A Victim of the Great East Japan Earthquake Identified with the Preserved Medical Samples of Her Deceased Mother

Tohoku J Exp Med. 2017 Jul;242(3):247-249. doi: 10.1620/tjem.242.247.


On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and huge tsunami occurred near the Pacific coast of northeast Japan, in which more than 18,000 people died or went missing and more than 120,000 buildings were destroyed. In Taro district, one of the areas struck hardest by the tsunami, a middle-aged woman was found deceased in the rubble. Generally, a family physician can recognize victims based on their appearance; the place where they were found; their home or work address; their belongings; the identifying marks on their clothes; their dental charts; and their living biological parents, children, or multiple siblings through DNA analysis. However, in this case, the middle-aged woman remained the area's sole unidentified person for months, because her appearance was different, her body was slightly swollen, and she was missing some teeth. The district's medical and dental facilities were destroyed and almost all medical records and dental charts lost. Fortunately, a family physician who had worked in the district for many years survived the disaster, and was available to provide background information about the victim, her family, and their relationship. He recalled the existence of tissue samples of her mother who had died several years earlier. Subsequently, the individual was identified through the DNA analysis of her blood and mother's tissue samples. As demonstrated in the case, appropriately managed medical information and samples from previously deceased relatives can aid disaster victim identification. The destruction caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake forms our investigation's background.

Keywords: DNA analysis; disaster; identification of victim; medical records; tsunami.

MeSH terms

  • Death
  • Disaster Victims*
  • Earthquakes
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers*
  • Pedigree
  • Preservation, Biological*
  • Tsunamis