In a first, Japan refocused its annual disaster drills Sunday to simulate a response to the dreaded Nankai quake, mobilizing more than 1 million people across the country for the hypothetical scenario.
The annual exercise, held as usual on the anniversary of the devastating temblor that struck Tokyo 90 years ago, focused on the Cabinet's response to a powerful earthquake expected to devastate central and western Japan "within 30 years."
For the first time, the central government's main drill on Disaster Prevention Day was based on the Nankai Trough scenario, in which up to 323,000 deaths and ¥220 trillion in damage is expected in the worst case.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ministers gathered at his official residence and held a disaster response meeting, which was followed by a mock news conference in which Abe urged the public to stay calm and refrain from panic buying of food and daily necessities.
The government also held a joint drill with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and surrounding municipalities. Some 1.33 million people were expected to participate in quake exercises in 43 of the 47 prefectures on the day, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
The scenario for the main drill assumed that a magnitude 9.1 temblor had struck in the Nakai Trough off the Pacific coast of central and western Japan, registering beyond the maximum of 7 on the Japanese intensity scale like the Great East Japan Earthquake did in March 2011.
In Tokyo, police simulated traffic control at about 120 places to direct drivers away from Tokyo and keep the main roads clear for emergency vehicles.
In Chiba Prefecture, about 300 residents took part in an evacuation and rescue exercise in which Self-Defense Forces, police and fire officials helped people escape collapsed houses and vehicles trapped in landslides, guiding them to evacuation shelters.