Almost two million people throughout the country took part in disaster-preparedness drills based on various earthquake scenarios on Sunday.
Drills included those premised on a massive earthquake hitting the Tokai region of central Japan and another in the southern Kanto region.
The drills were the first conducted on a large scale since the Central Disaster Prevention Council, chaired by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, expanded its scope in April. Eight prefectures comprising 263 municipalities were required to take part in the special Tokai quake-related precautions.
The annual drills coincided with the day dubbed Disaster Prevention Day.
Nagano Prefecture, however, held off on conducting drills due to its gubernatorial election taking place the same day.
Aichi Prefecture, where many municipalities were added in April to those considered requiring special precautions, took part in an information-sharing teleconference with Shizuoka Prefecture and the central government.
One drill was based on a scenario in which an earthquake registering a magnitude of 8 hit the Tokai region. Another focused on a mock 7.2-magnitude quake with its epicenter in the city of Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.
At the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Koizumi issued a state of alert at 8:25 a.m. after being briefed by the Meteorological Agency on the fictitious temblor. Playing his role, Koizumi urged residents in areas under special caution to act calmly and follow orders from authorities.
A special meeting of the entire Cabinet was then called, with the governors of Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures also taking part via teleconference.
Later in the day, Koizumi boarded a Self-Defense Forces helicopter to travel to a disaster-drill site in Kashiwa for an inspection. It was the first time for the prime minister to board a helicopter from the helipad on the roof of the new official residence that opened in April.
On Thursday, the council predicted that a Tokai quake could kill as many as 8,100 people and destroy 230,000 buildings in a worst-case scenario.
However, the council said the number of casualties could be a quarter of the figure if a warning were issued in a timely manner and enough people were evacuated.
The nationwide drills were held as many parts of central and eastern Japan were hit by late-summer heat.
Koizumi, clad in blue gear for the drill, walked from the helicopter to a cheering crowd at the Kashiwa site.
About 7,500 residents took part in the Kashiwa drill as the temperature rose above 30 degrees. “I know I have to be serious, but it’s tough under this heat,” said a company worker who played the part of an injured quake victim.
Meanwhile, some 18,000 people took part in a Tokyo Metropolitan Government-organized drill in high-rise apartment complexes and other locations.
Two years ago, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara mobilized more than 7,000 SDF personnel for the drill and deployed armored vehicles on the shopping streets of Ginza.
This year’s drill was on a smaller scale, with the emphasis on communication between local residents and relevant authorities.
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