Hundreds of thousands of people across the country participated in annual disaster drills Tuesday, while many prefectures canceled or scale-downed their exercises in the wake of flood damage triggered by Typhoon No. 4.

Yamagata, Miyagi, Tochigi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures canceled their planned drills, putting priority on relief activities in the wake of torrential rains that lasted from Thursday to Sunday.

The central government also had planned to conduct mock emergency conferences and disaster drills Tuesday, but the government’s Central Disaster Prevention Council, headed by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, decided Monday night to call them off.

This marks the first time that the central government’s annual exercise has been canceled since the drills started in 1971. According to the National Police Agency, more than 11,900 buildings were flooded, 17 people were killed, four were missing, and more than 1,671 landslides were reported in 24 prefectures from Hokkaido to Kyoto as of noon Tuesday.

Sept. 1, the anniversary of the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, is designated as Disaster Prevention Day, on which disaster drills usually are held every year across the country. This year, more than 8 million people had initially planned to participate in disaster drills between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, according to the National Land Agency.

In Tokyo, large-scale drills took place as scheduled in Yoyogi Park and the downtown area of Shibuya Ward, drawing about 10,000 participants. “I live alone, so I participated in this drill. I’m worried (about an earthquake occurring)” said 84-year-old Kane Koike, who made sure of her evacuation route by coming to Yoyogi Park with her neighbors.

Local residents formed a community group to travel to the drill and participated in firefighting training, examined disaster relief goods and cooked emergency food.

In Hyogo Prefecture, which was struck by a major earthquake that killed more than 6,000 people in 1995, about 27,000 people — the largest number ever for the prefecture — participated in a disaster drill on Tuesday.

In other parts of the country, however, people are apparently becoming less concerned about a possible major disaster.

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