Earthquake sends reminder

The earthquake that hit inland areas of the Tohoku region Saturday morning serves as a strong reminder that Japan’s central and local governments, and its individual citizens must take earthquake precautionary measures in earnest. If a quake with the power of the Saturday temblor had hit a populous area at night time, the damage could have been far worse and the rescue work even more difficult.

Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude quake occurred at 8:43 a.m., with its seismic center about 8 km below the ground surface in southern Iwate Prefecture. It hit inland areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Akita prefectures, leaving 10 people dead, 12 people missing and about 230 people injured. The quake caused vibrations of upper 6 in the Japanese intensity scale of 7 in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, and Kurihara, Miyagi Prefecture. It follows a major quake off Noto Peninsula on March 25, 2007, which killed one person, and another major quake off Niigata Prefecture on July 16, which killed 15 people.

The Tohoku quake tore up roads and hills, knocked down a 95-meter bridge and isolated village communities in mountainous areas. There is still a risk of landslides caused by aftershocks and cautionary steps should be taken.

The quake underlines the vulnerability of scattered village communities in mountainous areas. In Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, landslides and cracks in the ground isolated about 400 people and helicopters were needed for rescue operations. In some communities not only were roads unusable but telecommunication systems were disrupted.

A government panel says there is the possibility that major quakes will isolate about 17,000 communities in mountainous areas nationwide. Local governments need to secure communication networks and electric power sources, and stockpile emergency supplies in such communities.

Saturday’s quake also underlines the need for strengthening studies on active geological faults nationwide. Not only should buildings be made more quake-resistant, but public facilities should be removed from danger zones near such faults.

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