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Up to 6,100 people are expected to die in Tokyo in the worst-case scenario of an earthquake

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As many as 6,100 people would die in the event of a major earthquake in the heart of Tokyo, the metropolitan government said in a report on Wednesday, and revised estimates by about 30 percent from a decade ago.

The report, issued by the seismic experts of the metropolitan government, attributes the reduction of about 3,500 people to the progress in resisting earthquakes in buildings and the increased use of non-combustible materials in their construction.

The commission simulated large earthquakes with different epicenters of the latest damage projection, and concluded that the highest death toll of 6,148 would result if a 7.3-magnitude earthquake occurred in the southern part of central Tokyo.

Such an earthquake would register a maximum of 7 on the Japan seismic intensity scale, shaking about 60 percent of Tokyo’s 23 wards with an intensity of 6 or higher.

At intensities above 6, many people find it impossible to stay standing or move around without crawling. According to the Meteorological Agency, the tremors are strong enough to throw people into the air.

Of the estimated deaths, 3,209 deaths will be due to collapsed buildings and 2,482 from fires, the report said.

Naoshi Hirata (right), professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and chair of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s seismic expert committee, delivers a simulation report to Governor Yuriko Koike in Tokyo on May 25, 2022. (Kyodo)

About 194,000 homes and other buildings will be damaged, while about 4.53 million people will not be able to return to their homes.

Similar estimates in 2012 put 9,641 people dead and some 304,000 homes and buildings destroyed.

Among the factors cited for reductions in mortality and damage estimates is the improvement in the earthquake resistance of homes, with the proportion of earthquake-resistant homes increasing from 81 percent to 92 percent in 2020 within 10 years.

Another factor is the decline in densely populated wooden dwellings where fires can spread easily.

During the rapid urbanization of post-war Tokyo, these areas were developed on about 16,000 hectares of land, primarily outside the JR Yamanote ring line, according to the metropolitan government.

But thanks to the support given to demolish old housing units or replace them with new ones, the area of ​​these areas has shrunk over the years to about 8,600 hectares in 2020.

The expert group noted that if more measures are taken, the number of deaths from collapsed buildings and fires could drop to around 800.

“Despite the low number of deaths, losses of up to 6,000 people should not be allowed to occur,” said Naoshi Hirata, chair of the committee and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo. “It is necessary to strengthen measures steadily.”

The metropolitan government is expected to revise its disaster prevention plan based on the latest forecasts.

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Rapid evacuation could cut earthquake deaths by 80% in northern Japan

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