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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tokyoites hit streets for 'disastrous' commute


Staff writer

If a huge earthquake or disaster hit Tokyo, many people would probably have to walk home.

News photo
No bread crumbs: Disaster drill participants examine a map while riding a water bus Saturday as they head toward Tokyo's Ryogoku district on the Sumida River. The exercise was part of a walking event hosted by the Japanese Red Cross Society to help people get home in case an earthquake or other disaster renders Tokyo's bridges unusable. KAZUAKI NAGATA PHOTO

To better prepare Tokyoites for such a crisis, the Japanese Red Cross Society Tokyo conducted a return-home "training event" Saturday that gave participants a chance to find their way back home on foot.

According to a 2006 estimate by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, about 3.9 million people would have a difficult time getting home if a major earthquake struck Tokyo in the early evening on a weekday.

"We'd like people to find out which routes they should take and actually experience walking home," said Kazuya Furuhashi, head of the planning section at the Japanese Red Cross Society Tokyo, which has been holding the event since 2000.

"Also, we'd like them to know what kind of possible dangers there might be on their routes and where they could drink water and find public toilets," he said.

For instance, Furuhashi said if people have to walk close to tall buildings, they should be careful because broken glass might be scattered in the streets, blocking their ways.

For the event, the Red Cross established three starting points — the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, Akatsuki Park in Chuo Ward, and Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, western Tokyo, so the participants could pick out routes according to where they work and live.

The Red Cross also set up 14 aid stations where people could get drinking water and collect information from volunteers along major roads.

If Tokyo were hit by a disaster, these aid stations would actually be set up, and the Red Cross hopes to install more in the future.

According to the organizer, about 500 people participated in this year's event, which is about double last year's attendance.

The participants, many of whom walked several kilometers to get home, seemed to find the event beneficial.

"We wouldn't have time to be lost if emergencies happened. I'd like to know the shortest way to get home," said Mariko Tachibana, 36, of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, as she began walking.

Tachibana was taking part along with two other members of a local organization.

Isao Onuma, 62, from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, was participating for the second year in a row. He said events like this one offer an opportunity to remind himself about emergencies.

"I think it's important that we keep this kind of awareness for disasters," so people will know what to do if something happens, he said.



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