The government staged earthquake drills Friday involving about 800,000 people across the country in a bid to improve disaster preparedness, and the U.S. frigate USS Gary also took part.

This year’s drills focused on ways to cope with big quakes under a scenario that a magnitude 7.3 temblor hits under Tokyo Bay in an 8.0 quake hits Suruga Bay in central Japan.

The U.S. 7th Fleet frigate carried about 30 metro government employees from Tokyo’s Harumi Pier to Yokosuka port, Kanagawa Prefecture.

It is the first time for U.S. service members to take part in the drills, although the metro government has been using the U.S. Air Force Yokota base in western Tokyo as a depot for relief goods in its disaster drills since 2001, according to metro officials.

In the meantime, Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels are to transport about 1,000 people to the port of Chiba.

The transport drills are part of rescue efforts for those who get trapped at work in Tokyo. The metro government estimates that around 3.9 million people would find it difficult to return home if a 7.3 magnitude quake struck Tokyo and surrounding areas.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Cabinet ministers gathered for an emergency meeting at his official residence.

During the drill, Koizumi gave a press conference and said: “Please deal with this major disaster in a level-headed manner.”

Based on emergency measures to maintain the nation’s key administrative and economic functions, Koizumi also held a video-conference with Bank of Japan Gov. Toshihiko Fukui for the first time.

This year’s drills are the last ones for Koizumi, who steps down late this month.

The U.S. military in Japan would also handle helicopter airlifts of relief goods to areas along the Arakawa River in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward.

In addition, a South Korean rescue team from a fire department in Seoul is joining in the drills for the first time to conduct rescue operations at collapsed buildings.

In Shizuoka Prefecture, some 640,000 people took part in drills that focused on evacuating marooned residents in villages cut off from transportation after the magnitude 8 temblor strikes in Suruga Bay, but a plan to use helicopters was canceled due to bad weather.

The annual drills are held on Disaster Prevention Day, the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of Sept. 1, 1923, which was a magnitude 7.9. Subsequent fires destroyed large parts of Tokyo and Yokohama, and left more than 100,000 people dead.

The drills come on the heels of a magnitude 4.8 temblor that jolted Tokyo Thursday.

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