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Sunday, Sep. 2, 2012
Disaster drills conducted nationwide
Thousands turn out to rehearse responses to future catastrophes
By MIZUHO AOKI
Under cloudy skies and intermittent rain, a flurry of disaster drills took place across Japan on Saturday to prepare for major earthquakes in Tokyo and other areas.
The drills, held on the 89th anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, mobilized a total of 387,000 people, including government officials and residents in Tokyo and 39 other prefectures nationwide, to simulate responses to major temblors in the capital and the Nankai Trough off central and western Japan.
The Tokyo drills, which were coordinated by the central government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Meguro Ward, were based on a magnitude 7.3 earthquake striking northern Tokyo Bay at 9 a.m., registering upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7.
Reflecting the latest projections by the metro government, this year's exercise focused on self-help efforts and cooperation with neighbors to reduce damage because it may take hours for professional assistance to arrive.
In the Toranomon area, Cabinet members either walked or biked to the prime minister's office to hold an emergency meeting, as road damage and traffic jams are likely to render vehicle use impractical.
In Meguro Ward, residents practiced extinguishing fires by using 16 makeshift wooden houses erected for the drill on narrow streets around Nishikoyama Station to simulate neighborhoods packed with timber structures.
The Haramachi area, for example, is one of many in Tokyo filled with decrepit wooden houses and narrow streets that prevent fire trucks and ambulances from entering. Under the guidance of firefighters, about 160 residents worked together to rescue dummy victims trapped in the houses and put out fires using just buckets and fire hydrants.
"I wonder if we'll be able to act as calmly as we did today if a real quake strikes. When such a day comes, firefighters won't be here to guide us and we'll have to help each other to extinguish the fires," said Isao Nakagawa, 70, a Meguro Ward resident.
Because there are many areas in the ward crowded with old houses, Nakagawa said he and his neighbors are rethinking their earthquake preparations.
"There are no fire hydrants on the street where I live. so it would be extremely difficult to extinguish a fire," Nakagawa said. "We need to hold discussions and consider the best way to prepare for a disaster."
According to the metropolitan government's latest casualty projections, about 9,700 people could die the next time a massive temblor strikes Tokyo. About 4,100 alone would be killed by fires, mostly in areas packed with old wooden houses, the report said.
Drills also were held at JR Meguro Station, Komazawa Olympic Park and Rinshi no Mori Park, where Meguro residents practiced rescue methods and searched for temporary evacuation sites using radios, the Internet and other communication methods.
At Haneda airport, the U.S. Navy teamed up with the Self-Defense Forces to rehearse logistic support plans.
The drills came nearly a year and a half after the Great East Japan Earthquake wreaked havoc in northeastern Japan and just days after the government released a new estimate for a potential quake in the Nankai Trough that said up to 323,000 people could perish.
In Yamashita Park in Yokohama, residents practiced evacuating to buildings and other locations by making use of disaster alerts issued to their mobile phones. At Yokohama Minatomirai Railway Co.'s Minatomirai Station, station personnel practiced issuing guidance to stranded commuters.
Meanwhile, for a Nankai Trough scenario based on a temblor with a magnitude of 9.0 or higher, the government conducted a military relief exercise involving planes and Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers that provided helicopters to transport the injured out of Shikoku, which is expected to suffer major damage, to parts of Kyushu.
Information from Kyodo added