About 7,200 people would be killed, 158,000 injured and 378,000 buildings destroyed by fire if an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale were to hit Tokyo at around 6 p.m. in the winter, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s worst-case scenario, released August 29.
The projected damage to structures by fire in the quake would be 50 times worse than fire damage in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. The metropolitan government’s simulation is based on an earthquake as powerful as the Hanshin quake with its epicenter in Tokyo. The January 1995 quake devastated Kobe and surrounding areas, killing more than 6,400 people.
More than 70 years have passed since the Great Kanto Earthquake, and experts agree that a major quake of up to 7 on the Richter scale could hit the heavily urbanized southern Kanto region at any time. According to the report, if the earthquake’s focus were to be located beneath Tokyo’s 23 wards, 143,000 buildings in the capital would be destroyed. In addition, subsequent fires would destroy 378,000 structures, particularly those in areas along Loop Highway No. 7 and the JR Chuo Line, which contain large numbers of old, wooden houses.
As a result, 7,160 people would be killed and 158,000 injured. Of the fatalities, 2,340 would be due to collapsing structures and 4,800 due to fire, according to the simulation.
The simulation’s projections are relatively moderate when compared with previous projections by the metropolitan government. In 1991, the government projected that an earthquake in a submarine trench off the coast would kill 9,363 people in the city. The maximum strength of the quake in the latest simulation would reach the upper 6 level on the Japanese scale of 7. The Hanshin quake reached 7, toppling high-rise structures and destroying an elevated expressway. Metropolitan officials claim that such extreme devastation is unlikely in Tokyo. At the same time, they admit that a level 6 earthquake would devastate large areas of the region.
The Hanshin quake occurred early in the morning, when the wind velocity was much weaker than in the latest simulation, minimizing fire damage in Kobe. The weather and time conditions of the simulation quake were assumed to provide the worst-case scenario, which would cause fires and affect millions of commuters on their way home. As many as 3.71 million people would find it difficult to return home on the first day of any such disaster.
Some observers claimed that the report is too optimistic, pointing that it does not count victims from such elements as panic, traffic accidents and falling objects from high-rise structures. Officials at the government said they excluded those elements because no statistics are available or past studies concluded that victims from such disasters would be unlikely.