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The Shizuoka Prefectural Government has made a 70% downward revision in the projected number of deaths from a feared mega-earthquake as a result of advances in anti-disaster measures.

Major earthquakes have occurred in the Nankai Trough, an ocean floor trench that runs underneath the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan from Shizuoka to Kyushu, once every 100 to 150 years. A new quake is forecast to arrive sooner or later.

The Cabinet Office estimates that Shizuoka will be hit by a quake of up to 7 on the Japanese earthquake intensity scale, the highest level, accompanied by tsunami as high as 33 meters.

In fiscal 2013, the prefectural government forecast that 96,000 people would be killed by the tsunami, 9,300 by the collapse of buildings and fires, and 200 by landslides, for a total death toll of around 105,000.

The Shizuoka government has since been promoting anti-disaster measures such as building tide walls and escape towers and making houses quake-resistant.

At the end of fiscal 2019, the government lowered its death toll projection to 33,000 from the fiscal 2013 total. It will step up efforts such as increasing citizens' awareness of the need for evacuation in a bid to achieve an additional cut of 10 percentage points by fiscal 2022.

The construction of coastal surge barriers not only takes time and money but also blights the landscape. The prefectural government allows each locality to decide its own anti-tsunami policy and has promoted work in line with it.

In the city of Hamamatsu, a tide embankment with a maximum height of 15 meters has been completed thanks in part to donations from Ichijo Co., a home builder, and other local companies. Fukuroi, among other cities in the prefecture, is now protected by a 6-meter embankment.

The prefectural government has so far completed coastal levees with a total length of 32 kilometers, which can cut the number of deaths by 16,800, it said.

An escape tower in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture | KYODO
An escape tower in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture | KYODO

In contrast, sightseeing spots and fishing ports on the Izu Peninsula have decided not to build anti-tsunami levees, in order to preserve natural scenery. The prefectural government therefore has constructed escape towers, made buildings usable as evacuation centers and added footsteps to some 1,000 higher locations so that 76,800 people can escape tsunami waves.

But with only 70% of residents saying in a survey that they would flee for refuge within 10 minutes of an earthquake, the prefectural government estimates that escape towers and other facilities can reduce the number of deaths by 52,200, taking into account the possibility of people failing to escape.

Escape facilities are "effective only when people climb them," an official of the prefectural government's crisis management policy section said. "We need to raise people's awareness of the importance of an early escape."

The prefectural government has therefore launched a program to help residents prepare their own evacuation plans in line with the time they need to reach the nearest refuge as well as their age and physical strength.

With the government also promoting a subsidy program to make homes quake-resistant, the share of such homes rose from 82% to 89% in the five years from 2013, cutting the projected number of deaths resulting from the collapse of homes by 3,100.

But because many of the remaining homes have older residents, including those who refuse to renovate their homes to make them resistant to earthquake shocks, the use of subsidies is stalling, according to the prefectural government.

The spread of COVID-19 infections has made the quake resistance of homes more important, because older people will be forced to live communally at shelters if a big earthquake occurs and wrecks their homes.

In addition to raising the subsidy amount under the program from fiscal 2020, the prefectural government is encouraging more people to make their homes quake-resistant by stressing the risks of infection and collapse.

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