Study: About 11,000 Would Die in Tokyo Quake

March 1, 2005

About 11,000 people would die and Japan as a whole would suffer about $1.06 trillion in economic damage if a major earthquake were to strike Tokyo, a government disaster prevention panel said.

The panel made its estimates based on the worst-case scenario of a magnitude-7.3 quake hitting the center of the Japanese capital on a winter evening.

Injuries would top 43,000 while some 2.4 million to 3.3 million people would seek refuge at shelters, the report by the Cabinet Office’s central disaster committee said.

As many as 6.5 million people working or visiting Tokyo would likely be held up in office and shopping districts unable to return home if a quake hit during daytime hours, it said.

With about 35 million residents, the Tokyo metropolitan area is home to about one-fourth of Japan’s population.

The committee urged the government to take steps to reinforce buildings further against earthquakes and take other measures to lessen the devastation.

“The issue is not how bad the economic damage would be, but how do we prevent it,” said Shigeru Ito, the head of the committee that prepared the report. “There are serious possibilities, so we need to prepare. Advance preparation is what is important.”

The city hosts Japan’s central government, the headquarters of its biggest corporations, and many of the country’s top universities — a concentration that would exacerbate the financial impact of a major quake.

Collapsed or damaged buildings would account for $466 billion, or most of the economic damage.

Businesses, especially in the service industry, would suffer billions of dollars more in indirect losses because of disrupted sales, production, and distribution, the study said.

A quake with an estimated magnitude of 8.3 hit Tokyo in 1923, killing 142,000 people. Powerful quakes in 1703, 1782, 1812 and 1855 also caused vast damage in the capital.

Experts generally agree the city is well overdue for another major earthquake.

Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries because it sits atop four tectonic plates. Since the late 1970s, the government has taken measures to strengthen its monitoring of seismic activity, and to coordinate steps with local governments on how to cope with earthquakes.

Last month, the world’s largest reinsurance company said Tokyo topped its world list of urban areas that could suffer catastrophic losses in lives and property from earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis or terrorism.

Munich Re said Tokyo’s huge population combined with its vulnerability to volcanic eruption, earthquakes, tropical storms, tsunamis and flooding put it at a higher risk.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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