230 people killed or missing in natural disasters in 2004

At least 230 people were killed or remain missing and presumed dead in typhoons, rainstorms and other natural disasters in 2004, according to a government report released Tuesday.

Some 2,540 people were injured in natural disasters during the same period and about 9,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged, the annual Fire Defense White Paper says. The figures were compiled as of Nov. 10.

The number of fatalities was the worst since 1983.

In the Oct. 23 quakes that hit Niigata Prefecture, 40 people were killed and about 2,900 people injured, the report says.

The government’s response to major disasters will be crucial, the report says, referring to a law concerning public protection that outlines evacuation procedures in the face of natural disasters or in the event of an attack.

In a special feature, the report lists a number of issues that must be studied by the emergency firefighting and rescue teams established in the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake to coordinate rescue activities.

The report says prefectural authorities, firefighting units, and city and town governments must work together to coordinate their rescue activities in emergencies.

It is important that the central and local governments work together regularly so their joint actions will function in emergencies, it says.

The report recommends that municipalities enhance their crisis management systems and boost the capabilities of municipal and volunteer firefighting entities that play a key role in evacuating the public and passing on information in times of crisis.

According to the report, 56,333 fires were reported last year. For the seventh straight year, arson topped the list of causes. Combined with suspected cases, arson accounted for 25 percent of the total.

The report says 1,041 people were killed in residential fires, topping 1,000 for the first time in 17 years. More than half of the victims were aged 65 or over.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency plans to promote the installation of fire alarms in every home.