August 31, 2006

Japan holds huge quake drill with U.S. military

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan held a huge earthquake disaster
drill in Tokyo on Friday with a U.S. navy ship transporting
evacuees and helicopters carrying relief supplies.

The exercises, held every year on the anniversary of the
Great Kanto earthquake which killed more than 140,000 people on
September 1, 1923, are a reminder that the island nation, where
earthquakes occur frequently, must be vigilant.

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.7 struck
southern Japan shortly before the drills started. But there
were no reports of damage or casualties. On Thursday, Tokyo was
struck by a 4.8 magnitude quake.

In a mock news conference on Friday, a grim-faced Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that massive damage had been
caused by an earthquake that struck Tokyo earlier in the day.

The news conference was part of annual disaster drills that
mobilized about 800,000 people around Japan as well as scores
of U.S. military personnel for the first time and several South
Korean rescue workers.

Koizumi's announcement was based on a scenario in which an
earthquake struck directly beneath Tokyo with a 7.3 magnitude
in the morning rush hours, a level identical to a quake that
hit the city of Kobe in January 1995 that killed more than
6,400 people.

Under the scenario, the quake killed 4,300 people, injured
154,000 and left 4.47 million people stranded.

The major tremor destroyed nearly 110,000 homes and sparked
fire that burned down 73,000 houses.

Rescue workers rappelled down the side of skyscrapers,
helicopters lifted people from rivers, and fire trucks were
mobilized to take people from the roof of a high-rise building.

The U.S. military mobilized the Frigate USS GARY to
transport 30 "evacuees" from the Tokyo Bay to Yokosuka, a U.S.
navy base for the Seventh Fleet.

Five members of a South Korean rescue team from a fire
department in Seoul also took part for the first time.

Japan accounts for about 20 percent of the world's
earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

The Tokyo Metropolitan government said in March that a
magnitude 7.3 earthquake under Tokyo would probably kill more
than 5,600 people and injure almost 160,000. Official estimates
of economic damage have topped more than $1 trillion.

Tokyo, with a population of 12 million, sits on the
junction of four tectonic plates: the Eurasian, North American,
Philippine and Pacific. The sudden bending or breaking of any
plate can trigger an earthquake.