A Living Nightmare

Miori Noguchi's dreams usually start out peacefully enough -- cows grazing in a pasture, a happy young bride at a wedding reception. But then terrible, unexpected things start to happen. The cows start bleeding. The bride sprawls on a stretcher, an IV stuck in her arm.

Like thousands of other victims of a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway three years ago Friday, Noguchi continues to suffer.

"I don't know how I survived the last three years," she said in an interview, nervously wiping her face as she recalled the attack by the Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, cult.

The attack by the doomsday cult, the worst act of terror in modern-day Japan, shattered the nation's traditional sense of safety. Twelve people died and thousands were sickened.

The cult was also implicated in another nerve-gas attack in central Japan in 1994 that killed seven people; in the deaths of several wayward followers; the near fatal shooting of Japan's top police official; and the kidnapping and killing of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.

Police cracked down with unprecedented thoroughness. More than 400 of the cult's 10,000 members in Japan were arrested; 110 have been convicted, and the cult was forced to disband.

Aum Shinri Kyo's commune at the foot of Mount Fuji has been seized, and the barrack-like structures that once stored chemicals, arms and drugs are now empty, awaiting demolition.

However, trials for dozens of key cult leaders, including founder Shoko Asahara, drag on. A verdict on Asahara may not come until the next decade.

Police say about 500 cult members remain faithful to Asahara, and are clandestinely carrying on cult rituals. They say the cult is far from the threat it once was, but admit signs of its resurgence are alarming.

Psychiatrist Kanzo Nakano said that fear generated by the attack may finally be fading for most Japanese. But he said it may be getting worse for those who actually breathed the deadly sarin a nerve gas developed by the Nazis in World War II on March 20, 1995.

"Victims feel as if they are being left behind as the rest of the society forgets what happened to them," he said.

Noguchi wonders if she will ever forget.

Her first physical reaction to the nerve gas was a throbbing throat and nausea. Then came sharp pains in her eyes and frequent nightmares. Her eyesight has been permanently weakened, and she now wears glasses.

She still has bouts of panic, and of gasping for air symptoms diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. She manages to distract herself with the help of a Walkman and medication.

About half of 285 victims surveyed recently by St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo said they continue to suffer from a vague sort of fatigue.

Thirty percent complained of chronic headaches, and more than 20 percent said they at times have dizziness, irregular breathing, nausea or loss of appetite.

"Or lives have been completely turned around," said Shizue Takahashi, whose husband -- a subway worker -- died trying to help passengers reach safety above ground. "For the victims, nothing has changed."

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