Disaster liaison systems tested as part of annual quake drills

by Reiji Yoshida

Nearly a million people across the country took part in annual earthquake drills Wednesday — the 81st anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.

According to the Cabinet Office, 1.921 million people in all 47 prefectures will join drills during Antidisaster Week, which started Monday and runs through Sunday.

The magnitude-7.9 temblor of 1923 and its resultant fires devastated much of Tokyo and surrounding areas, resulting in the loss of some 142,800 lives and the destruction of 575,000 structures.

Experts and the government have warned that the Tokai and southern Kanto regions could be hit again by massive quakes and are drawing up two official large-scale emergency programs for the areas.

On Wednesday, officials tested Tokai and Kanto government liaison systems that would link the central and local governments, the police, the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard in case of a major earthquake.

The drills, in which some 997,000 people took part, were based on the assumption that a magnitude-8.0 temblor, whose epicenter was located in western Shizuoka Prefecture, had struck, followed by another 6.5-magnitude quake hitting Yokohama.

The drills started at 7:05 a.m., when Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda announced at a news conference at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in Tokyo that the government has detected changes in the Earth’s crust in the Tokai region.

The government is closely monitoring crustal changes in the area around the clock as part of efforts to seek early signs of abnormal subterranean activity.

At 11 a.m., Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, based on the drill scenario, announced that a major earthquake could hit the Tokai region in two or three days, issuing a mock warning.

He then boarded a helicopter and landed at a sports center in Gotenba, Shizuoka Prefecture, where rescue teams made up of police, firefighters and SDF troops conducted a joint deployment exercise.

In Yokohama, where Koizumi dropped by on his way to Shizuoka, residents participated in evacuation drills as volunteers led elderly and disabled people to evacuation areas.