Main Navigation


"I felt the hot sand on my back as I ran, and I was blown over before I reached the shelter."
Reiko Yamada, 79-year-old Hiroshima survivor

A fiercely hot August sun beat down and the still, sticky air was filled with the shrill hum of cicadas. It was only a few minutes after 8am. In the grounds of Koi Primary School in western Hiroshima, the headmaster decided to give the sweat-sodden schoolchildren a few minutes break from their daily flag-signalling practice.

The children sat in the shade of the ginkgo and cherry blossom trees. One boy suddenly pointed up to a silver dot in the cloudless, blue sky. "A B-29!" he shouted. Sitting with her friends on the edge of the sandpit, Reiko Yamada looked up, scanning the blue expanse for the American plane.

"I thought the plane was gone at first, but it started to turn and I remember thinking how pretty its vapour trail looked," she says. "Then, all of a sudden, there was a blinding white flash and everybody instantly began to run for the school's air-raid shelter. I felt the hot sand on my back as I ran, and I was blown over before I reached the shelter."

Struggling under the branches of an uprooted tree, 11-year-old Yamada managed to free herself and sprint down the steps to the crowded bunker. Although she didn't realize it during those first disorientating moments, the United States had just dropped the world's first atomic bomb 2.5 kilometres to the east, less than a month after successfully testing a similar device in the New Mexico desert. The date was 6 August 1945.

Destructive effects

A brilliant flash brighter than the sun temporarily blinded anyone looking in the direction of the explosion as a fireball of white heat, measuring thousands of degrees Celsius, instantly vaporised or carbonised almost everyone close by. A giant mushroom cloud over the shattered, burning remains of the city and smothering blankets of smoke and dust turned day to night.

Yamada was heading towards the hills around Hiroshima when black oily drops of radioactive rain began to fall. "We were shivering and our teeth were chattering, it was so cold," the 79-year-old recalls. "We didn't know if we were shivering because of the cold or because we were scared."

Up to 80,000 people were killed instantly by the explosion. Another 70,000 suffered horrific burns and other injuries. A vast area of Hiroshima was levelled, including most of the hospitals. There were few facilities and medical staff to help deal with the catastrophe. Chaos reigned.

Photos: ICRC

Australian Red Cross and nuclear weapons

Target Nuclear Weapons

Red Cross has consistently voiced its deep concerns about nuclear weapons and the need for the prohibition of their use. Read more.