A massive disaster drill was held Sunday in 10 locations throughout Tokyo, with the nation’s Self-Defense Forces participating on an unprecedented scale.
The drill came as residents of Miyake Island, south of Tokyo, continued to flee to mainland Tokyo due to unpredictable and increasing volcanic activity.
Authorities closed off the main street of downtown Ginza for one hour Sunday morning as participants feigning injuries moaned for help. C-130 transports from the SDF landed at Haneda Airport with medical supplies and police reinforcements from Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefectures as Ground Self-Defense Force troops advanced to the scene on the Oedo Subway Line.
The 25,000 participants marked the largest drill organized so far by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The drill, dubbed Big Rescue Tokyo 2000, is estimated to have cost an estimated 300 million yen, or three times the amount spent on disaster drills in previous years, officials said.
A total of 7,100 SDF members took part, outnumbering the 3,000-strong metropolitan police force and the 2,155 rescue personnel supplied by fire authorities. About 120 SDF aircraft, including helicopters, as well as 1,900 vehicles and 20 ships, were mobilized for the drill.
Drills were held in several locations including the downtown shopping district of Ginza, the Harumi waterfront area, the metropolitan government building in Shinjuku, Komazawa Park, and several other locations. It was the first time the SDF had conducted large-scale drills in the middle of the nation’s capital.
The drill began on the premise that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale had struck the nation’s capital at 7 a.m. Tokyo is overdue for a major quake on the scale of the 1923 Great Kanto Quake, experts say.
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori held an emergency meeting at the Defense Agency’s central command headquarters, where he held a teleconference with Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
“There are massive casualties and injuries,” reported Ishihara. “I have requested the deployment of SDF personnel for rescue operations. I also request the full cooperation of the central government.”
In the conference, Ishihara further requested the government’s cooperation for reconstruction efforts on Miyake Island. The full-scale evacuation of the volcanic island is scheduled to end today, after more than two months of quakes and eruptions.
Defense Agency chief Kazuo Torashima also gave instructions for the deployment of SDF troops to the disaster-hit area.
In the posh Ginza district, a formation of about 100 helicopters circled the sky while firefighters scaled the New Melsa building to rescue people trapped inside. Armored GSDF vehicles took to the streets as GSDF members, health officials and volunteers transported victims from the area with buses and other vehicles.
GSDF troops wearing oxygen masks rushed through the underground passages to rescue victims, while chemical fire engines arrived on the scene.
Yui Kodama, 21, who came with four friends to watch the events, said it all seemed staged. “They move so slow, like they’re posing for the cameras,” the university student said. “I wonder if they’re going to be able to really rescue people in a real disaster at that pace.”
Yoshinori Hosono, 53, came with his wife to watch the armored vehicles file through Ginza after surrendering to the crowds at Sogo Co.’s soon-to-be-closed Yurakucho store.
“In a real disaster here, there’s going to be jagged glass, rubble, bodies and fires,” the former Boy Scout said. “It’s going to be beyond imagination.”
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