National

Japan drafts river-based evacuation plan to ensure foreign access to Haneda airport after major quake

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

The land ministry is considering a plan to evacuate foreign people to Haneda airport by boat if a major earthquake cripples transportation in central Tokyo, a ministry official said.

Foreign residents and tourists in the metropolitan area would be evacuated on rivers to nearby wharves and taken to the airport in Ota Ward if all other means of transportation come to a standstill from the quake. Japanese visitors from outside Tokyo are also included in the plan.

The plan was proposed as an alternative way to access Haneda during a transportation breakdown.

The ministry estimates there are around 1,200 spots in densely built-up areas along the Yamanote Line where a quake could trigger residential fires.

It also said there are an estimated 195,400 houses that could be destroyed by an temblor of magnitude 7.3 or higher, and over 360,000 houses that would incur severe damage.

A study by the metropolitan government in 2012 shows a maximum 2.61-meter tsunami would be generated if a magnitude 7.3 quake struck northern Tokyo Bay. It says no severe river damage would be expected but that some areas might be flooded.

Kenichi Kawamura, the ministry official in charge of the measure, claims the risks posed by tsunami are low, considering the height estimate.

So far, the land ministry has designated 10 evacuation wharves along Arakawa River and two others along the Tama River. It is preparing to designate more along the Edogawa and Tsurumi rivers. Boats would be provided by private companies and the Japan Coast Guard, Kawamura said.

In addition, the ministry and municipalities are planning to utilize wide-open spaces along riverbeds as emergency routes for cars to deliver goods and equipment and to transport the injured to hospitals.

By the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the government’s goal is to lure 40 million tourists annually to Japan. But how to secure their safety in a major earthquake remains a challenge.

In 2013, the tourism ministry surveyed 80 foreign people who experienced the offshore Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. About 65 percent of the respondents, who spoke four languages among them, said they wanted to know different ways to reach airports after a quake. Over 76 percent said they would like more information on the status of public transportation in such an event.

The results of the survey show people want to be kept up to date on what is happening and what they have to do when a quake strikes. A few days after the 2011 quake, they started to look for essential information, including whether flights to their countries were available.