Quakes inevitable — so prepare

Past killer temblors show anywhere can be a danger zone and every city has disaster plans

by Reiji Yoshida

Last of two parts

Are you ready for the Big One?

Japan is an earthquake-prone country, and few places are free of risk of a major temblor.

Tokyo is no exception. The last catastrophic seismic event was the 1923 Kanto Great Earthquake, whose magnitude was recorded at 7.9. Taking place at around noon on Sept. 1, it led to the loss of 99,331 lives and left 447,128 structures in the region burned down.

Even today, if a magnitude 7.3 temblor hit northern Tokyo at 6 p.m. in winter, the government predicts 11,000 people be killed and another 210,000 injured, and the economic damage would reach ¥112 trillion.

Advance preparations can be key to minimizing the risk of a major earthquake.

The following includes tips and sources of information available in English that may help start the process of preparation.

Local governments, particularly those with many foreign residents, have English-language brochures with tips and other disaster-related information for non-Japanese residents. Such information is available for the asking.

Quake-related online information sources and other useful tips in English are available at www.tokyo-icc.jp/guide_eng/kinkyu/05.html

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s “Earthquake Survival Manual” offers comprehensive information at www.seikatubunka.metro.tokyo.jp/index3files/survivalmanual.pdf

Should a major quake or other natural disaster strike, evacuation to a shelter may be necessary. Local governments provide information on designated emergency shelters that set up in each community, often in public schools, large parks and hospitals.

For Tokyo residents, locations of such shelters and other quake-related facilities can easily be found using the metropolitan government’s click-able map, although the geographic names are only in Japanese, at: www2.wagamachi-guide.com/tokyo_bousai/

Under the government’s scenario for after a major quake hits, 6.5 million workers in Tokyo would find it difficult to return home because of disruptions in public transportation and traffic jams.

Thus, for many it would be advisable to be familiar with a possible way to walk home. The following Japanese-language Web site allows users to set up a foot route anywhere in Japan and create a free map: https://www.kitakumap.com/information/preparation.html

Advance knowledge of the locations of hospitals with foreign language-capable staff can be critical for non-Japanese.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Medical Information Center provides a multilingual phone service advising about hospitals with staff who can communicate in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai or Spanish. Call the center at (03) 5285-8181 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. for information.

Survival kits may also come in handy. Experts recommend households should prepare emergency survival items in a bag, including a flashlight, batteries, first-aid kit, portable radio, bottled water and nonperishable food.

Such items and packages are easier to find at this time of year, as Sept. 1 is the day of national disaster drills and more stores are likely to be marketing them.

After a major earthquake, it could take two to three days for relief assistance to reach stricken areas. Local governments thus recommend that households prepare to be able to survive without running water, food, gas or electricity for the first three days.

A typical person may need 3 liters of drinking water a day, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

In the case of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which left more than 6,000 people dead in Kobe and its vicinity, tap water was cut off for 90 days, city gas for 84 days and electricity for seven days at many locations.

Many survivors of the Hanshin quake found it difficult and dangerous to walk afterward because they could not find shoes in their collapsed houses. Thus keeping a pair of shoes in the emergency kit may also prove useful, experts say.

Of 4,571 Hanshin quake fatalities in Kobe, more than 80 percent of them died after being crushed under collapsed structures, the city said.