Ten prefectures predict they will see more deaths than the state’s estimate if a big earthquake occurs along the Nankai Trough off central and western Japan, based on tougher conditions, such as the collapse of seawalls and coastal embankments, a Kyodo News study found.
Among the 10, Hiroshima Prefecture forecasts a massive quake could kill 14,759 people, 18.4 times as many as the state’s prediction, while Osaka Prefecture expects 133,891 to die, a 13.7-fold increase.
While the state calculated the possible death toll on the assumption that embankments will not be affected by the quake, many local governments compiled their own data assuming subsidence of embankments will increase the area of land submerged by tsunami, resulting in more deaths.
Nagasaki Prefecture, where the state estimated 80 people would die, said, “While up to 5,360 people could die under the worst-case scenario, no one will be victimized if we carry out appropriate evacuations.”
The Cabinet Office said in August last year that the nationwide death toll could hit 323,000.
A government panel predicted earlier in 2013 that there is a 60 percent to 70 percent chance that a major earthquake could occur along the Nankai Trough within the next 30 years.
The Nankai Trough runs from Suruga Bay in Shizuoka Prefecture to the Hyuganada Sea off Miyazaki Prefecture.
Police in areas affected by the March 11, 2011, disasters in the Tohoku region have not given up hope of identifying the remains of victims.
According to the Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectural forces, more than 2,500 people have yet to be accounted for and the remains of 104 have not been identified yet: 70 in Iwate, 33 in Miyagi and one in Fukushima.
The Fukushima police were the first to start taking DNA from relatives of missing people to create a database. Thanks to these efforts, more than 90 percent of remains were identified within a year of the quake.
The police in Iwate and Miyagi also established DNA databases, and the three prefectural forces exchange information using their respective records.
However, many of the dead are believed to be elderly people with no known relatives, and the lack of documents and other related material have held up progress in identifying them.
The Iwate and Miyagi police published sketches of unidentified victims, but the amount of information provided by the public has fallen over time.
Stepping up its efforts, the Miyagi force has organized meetings where those searching for loved ones can exchange information with sketch artists, who give detailed explanations of the bodies, including clothes.
Helped by such interaction, Misako Sakaki, 24, from the tsunami-ravaged coastal city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, found her mother, Hitomi, who died at age 51, in November.
A sketch distributed as a flier hardly looked like her mother, but a character printed on the sweatsuit in the picture caught her eye. Sakaki talked with the coroner and continued communication until her mother was identified at last by dental records.
“I thought she would never come back,” Sakaki said.