NPA seeks disaster traffic ban across 11 prefectures

Kyodo

The National Police Agency unveiled a plan Thursday to ban road traffic on a total of 52 expressway, highway and other routes if a 7.0-magnitude earthquake strikes Tokyo and its vicinity.

Restricting road traffic would secure the passage of vehicles operated by police forces, fire departments and the Self-Defense Forces, as well as vehicles carrying relief goods or personnel, according to the agency’s plan.

In addition to Tokyo, the ban would apply to 10 other prefectures — Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Nagano, Shizuoka and Aichi — and in total would cover about 1,770 km of tarmac.

It is the first time the NPA has drawn up a plan to designate road routes for emergency vehicles for two or more prefectures in the event of a natural disaster. The agency will stage a drill to regulate road traffic in September, based on the plan’s provisions.

The NPA said it came up with the proposal after last March’s 9.0-magnitude quake jammed roads in and around Tokyo.

An estimated 11,000 people would die and large-scale fires might break out in the metropolitan area when the next Great Kanto Earthquake strikes Tokyo, so ensuring a quick response by disaster teams is vital, the agency said.

Under the plan, police would ban road traffic on 46 routes along stretches of the Tomei (Tokyo-Nagoya), Shin Tomei, Tohoku and Chuo expressways and also on “shuto kosoku” metropolitan roads, as well as six key highways leading to Tokyo.

The ban would range from as far north as the Tohoku Expressway’s Nasu interchange exit in Tochigi Prefecture to as far west as the Okazaki interchange exit on the Tomei Expressway in Aichi Prefecture.

The NPA plans to draft similar traffic bans for central Japan in anticipation of a possible magnitude 8.0 Tokai earthquake, as well as for large-scale flooding that may hit the country, its officials said.

The agency also said it would increase the maximum number of police officers dispatched to disaster-hit areas in quick response teams to 10,300 from the current 6,400.

According to government forecasts, there is a high probability of a 7.0-magnitude temblor striking the Tokyo metropolitan area in the next three decades.

The Central Disaster Management Council, under the Cabinet Office, predicts that a quake of this magnitude with an epicenter in northern Tokyo Bay would kill about 11,000 people and injure another 210,000.

About 850,000 buildings and homes also could collapse or be destroyed by fire, while the economic losses might reach about ¥112 trillion, the council estimates.

On Wednesday, a team of researchers from the science ministry said a magnitude 7.0 temblor with an epicenter in the northern Tokyo Bay area would register the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, revising upward the earlier estimate of upper 6.