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Millions of people around the country observed the 74th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake on Sept. 1 by taking part in antidisaster drills.

Some 7.7 million people participated in drills in the Tokai and Kanto regions. In all, 12 million people are expected to mobilize for quake drills throughout this week, designated as Disaster Prevention Week.

The 1923 Kanto quake and ensuing fires devastated the metropolitan region, killing more than 100,000 people and destroying countless numbers of buildings. Since then, Tokyo and many municipalities across the country have held large-scale antidisaster drills annually on Sept. 1.

In Yokohama, host of this year’s joint disaster drill of seven cities and prefectures in the Kanto region, about 13,000 people gathered in the Minato Mirai 21 district to respond to a hypothetical 6.5 magnitude quake directly beneath the city. Local residents, firefighters, police and members of the Self-Defense Forces practiced putting out fires, offering medical treatment, repairing gas and electricity lines and rescuing “survivors” from destroyed structures.

Shortly after noon, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto issued a mock emergency declaration that a large-scale earthquake had occurred at noon in the southern Kanto region. According to the declaration, roads, railways and other public facilities in a wide area around Yokohama suffered heavy damage. Fires had broken out at a number of locations, and many people were dead or missing in the “disaster.”

“The damage from the earthquake is so extraordinary and terrible that it will affect the nation’s economy and public welfare,” Hashimoto told a news conference that was held as part of the drill. “I proclaim an emergency.”

He also said the government had set up an antidisaster headquarters consisting of the Cabinet and two deputy chief Cabinet secretaries. Soon after his announcement, members of the headquarters met. Hashimoto stressed the importance of the government acting in a prompt and appropriate manner with the headquarters functioning as the core in the event of a large-scale disaster.

“Over the past few years, the government’s antidisaster drills have placed importance on best dealing with the situation right after a disaster occurs, learning lessons from the Great Hanshin Earthquake,” Hashimoto told the meeting. Leading a mock investigation team, Hashimoto then took off by helicopter for Yokohama from an ad hoc heliport set up in front of the Imperial Palace. He arrived in Yokohama at around 1:30 p.m.

At the same time as the Yokohama drill was being conducted, another drill involving government headquarters was held at the crisis management center, located on the premises of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

The second drill involved the Tokai region, which along with the southern Kanto region, has a high chance of being hit by a major earthquake, seismologists say. The National Land Agency called an emergency Cabinet meeting at 9:40 a.m. on the assumption that a magnitude 8 earthquake had hit the Tokai region at 9 a.m.

In Osaka Prefecture, approximately 2,200 personnel from 67 organizations, including the Osaka Prefectural Government, the Osaka Municipal Government, Osaka Prefectural Police and the Maritime Self-Defense Agency, conducted antidisaster drills in various parts of the prefecture on the assumption that a magnitude 7 tremor had directly rocked the area.

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