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Friday, June 15, 2012

Shinagawa will pay to raze quake firetraps


Staff writer

Shinagawa Ward in Tokyo plans to provide a subsidy to its residents to tear down their old wooden dwellings, aiming to prevent widespread fires should a huge quake strike the metropolis.

The ward has earmarked ¥30 million for the subsidy in a supplementary budget to be submitted next week to its assembly, according to Yoshiteru Shinagawa, section chief of the ward's disaster prevention division. The ward wants to start providing the subsidy as soon as next month, offering as much as ¥1.5 million for a house and ¥3 million for an apartment complex, he said.

Areas subject to the subsidy are Yutakacho 5-chome and Futaba 3-chome. Both are packed with old wooden structures. They were ranked as the worst and third-worst fire hazard areas in Tokyo by the metropolitan government in 2008.

Wood structures eligible for the subsidy, numbering some 650, were built before May 31, 1981, the day before the current quake-resistance standards took effect. They must be assessed as being in danger of collapse in a quake of upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale to qualify.

The areas are dense with wooden houses and some streets are too narrow for fire engines. Some 23 to 24 percent of the people living in the areas are elderly, a higher ratio than elsewhere in the ward, he said. Some of the houses were believed built soon after the war, and if a major quake strikes they are highly susceptible to fire.

"Our aim is to eliminate firetraps in order to be prepared for an earthquake. So the first step is to urge (residents to raze old wooden houses and) to create vacant lots by providing subsidies," Shinagawa said.

But he also said plans for relocating the residents or how to utilize the vacant lots have not been worked out. Only 1 percent of the targeted structures are expected to seek the subsidies.

A metropolitan government damage projection released in April said a magnitude 7.3 quake in greater Tokyo would claim some 4,100 lives in fires. Such casualties would be particularly high in "mokumitsu chiiki" (districts dense with wooden houses), the report said.



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