National

Japan carries out major quake drill on anniversary of 1923 temblor

Kyodo

The government held a nationwide disaster drill on Thursday to test an emergency response to a massive earthquake in the Nankai Trough off central and western Japan.

Local governments also held separate drills, in which about 1 million people in 36 of 47 prefectures took part. The annual exercises are held on the day a devastating temblor struck the Tokyo area in 1923.

At the government’s emergency disaster headquarters’ meeting in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave an order to Cabinet ministers, saying, “The state must make full-scale efforts and take swift measures by placing priority on saving lives.”

The drill comes after the nation experienced a devastating earthquake in the Tohoku region in March 2011, powerful quakes in Kumamoto Prefecture in April and a deadly typhoon in northern and northeastern Japan earlier this week.

Under the scenario of the main drill, a magnitude-9.1 temblor occurring off the southern coast of Wakayama Prefecture at 7:10 a.m. Thursday registered up to 7 on the Japanese seismic scale, a level similar to that of the March 2011 quake that triggered the subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The Prime Minister’s Office shared information with the prefectures supposedly hit by the quake in the scenario through a teleconference, with the offices then collaborating during the drill.

Experts say that a potentially catastrophic quake in the Nankai Trough could occur at any time.

Japanese research institutions have been bolstering monitoring efforts to detect signs of a quake.

In the city of Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture, a drone was used to grasp the extent of devastation in the drill, where residents, firefighters, policemen and the Self-Defense Forces participated to evacuate casualties.

In the city of Sasebo in Nagasaki, two U.S. Marine Corps Osprey aircraft were used in the drill, which included transporting a disaster medical assistance team to a remote island from a Self-Defense Forces’ base.

The use of the Osprey that can land and take off like a helicopter and yet fly like an airplane, is seen as an effort to demonstrate its safety amid ongoing plans to deploy the tilt-motor aircraft in Saga airport in Kyushu.

Sept. 1 is known in Japan as Disaster Prevention Day, after the magnitude-7.9 earthquake that hit the Kanto region including Tokyo on the same day in 1923, claiming the lives of over 105,000 people.