Drought dries up fire drill

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The Independent Online
TOKYO - Nation-wide fire drills for Japan's Disaster Prevention Day were cancelled yesterday - because there was no water for the fire hoses, writes Terry McCarthy.

The annual ritual, held on the anniversary of the 1 September 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake which destroyed most of Tokyo, was thwarted by the hottest, driest summer in recorded history. Officials did not say what measures would have been taken if a real disaster had occurred.

The 1923 earthquake killed 140,000 people, most of them in fires that burnt down two-thirds of the city.

Yesterday the authorities staged exercises based on a hypothetical earthquake south of Tokyo, but most of the fire- fighting drills had to be omitted or simulated without water. An oil refinery that 'exploded' under the imaginary scenario had to burn itself out without receiving a drop of water.

The population of Tokyo and its suburbs is now about 30 million, compared to 2.5 million at the time of the last big quake. The authorities have drawn up plans for evacuating citizens and fighting fires in the event of a major disaster - but without any water, the fire engines will have problems.

This year the lack of rain and record high temperatures have caused severe shortages: in southern Japan residents have been rationed to five hours of water every two days. For the rest of the time the mains supply is cut off - earthquake or no earthquake.