A month after magnitude 6.1 Osaka quake, progress slow on fixing walls and water pipes

JIJI, Kyodo

A month after a magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck northern Osaka Prefecture, progress is slow on removing substandard concrete walls that could collapse and on fixing the aging sewage system.

The four people killed by the June 18 quake included 9-year-old Rina Miyake, who was crushed by a concrete-block wall at her elementary school in the city of Takatsuki. This led local governments across the country to check similar walls.

A woman living nearby put a fence beside the wall around her house to keep children away. “I want to remove it as soon as possible,” she said, but she is unable to find an available contractor.

Some are reluctant to act because of the expense.

One 90-year-old man said he has no immediate plan to do anything with the wall around his house. “Nobody would die if a wall as low as ours collapsed,” he said.

The Takatsuki Municipal Government launched a subsidy program to provide ¥200,000 to ¥300,000 to help residents remove concrete-block walls. Other municipalities, including the city of Osaka, have also decided to subsidize wall removal and the construction of alternative fencing.

But it costs more than ¥10,000 per meter to remove dangerous walls, and the subsidies are insufficient to replace all of them with fences.

An emergency survey by the Osaka Prefectural Government has found high-risk walls at 8,924 locations along roads that children travel between home and school.

The coastal city of Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, has begun to offer subsidies of up to 90 percent to remove block walls. “We’ve taken drastic measures because we place top priority on tsunami evacuation route safety,” an official said.

Satoshi Sekiguchi, a lawyer familiar with architecture-related cases, said, “As this issue has attracted a great deal of attention, you can’t get away with saying that you never imagined your walls would collapse.”

The Osaka quake, which measured lower 6 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale, the third-highest level, also disrupted water systems, affecting some 210,000 residents.

Water supplies were cut off in the cities of Takatsuki and Minoo for up to two days due to the disaster. The ruptured pipes had been installed more than 40 years ago and no quake-proofing work had been applied.

Water pipes over 40 years old make up 29 percent of Osaka Prefecture’s system — the highest rate among Japan’s 47 prefectures and far worse than the average of 14 percent.

According to Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, renewing all aging water pipes would cost over ¥1 trillion ($9 billion).

To help finance the renewal project, the fiscally beleaguered prefectural government has begun to study consolidating water services.

The 7:58 a.m. earthquake also caused serious traffic disruptions that blocked emergency vehicles and stranded people on their way to work or school.

The Osaka government on Wednesday launched a committee to beef up anti-quake measures and discussed ways to prevent similar traffic chaos following future quakes. A massive earthquake is predicted within the next 30 years along the Nankai Trough, which is located off the southern coasts of central and southwestern Japan.

The committee, made up of economists and experts on disaster prevention, evaluated the case of the June quake, which stopped railways and traffic on expressways, causing severe holdups.

The committee’s head, Yoshiaki Kawata, said, “The quake was the world’s first that struck a major city during the morning rush hour. We have to quickly learn and compile lessons by discussing challenges” and prepare for the potential earthquake in the Nankai Trough, which estimates say could be as strong as magnitude 9.1.