Tokyo faces 'catastrophic' earthquake risk

One year after the Kobe disaster: A report predicts up to 60,000 dead and pounds 2,100bn damage if Tokyo suffers the same fate

RICHARD LLOYD PARRY

Tokyo

One year after the Kobe earthquake which killed 6,300 people, Tokyo faces an even greater disaster which could leave 60,000 dead and cause "staggering" economic losses, according to a new study.

The report, by Stanford University of California and an insurance research company, Risk Management Solutions, predicts what it calls "the largest catastrophic loss (in economic terms) in history" whose knock-on effects could shake the international markets, and raise interest rates around the world.

The research team considered the effects on the Tokyo area of a repeat of the great Kanto earthquake which killed 143,000 and razed two thirds of the city in 1923. It concluded that shaking and fires caused by the 7.9 magnitude quake would kill between 30,000 and 60,000 people, and seriously injure 80,000 to 100,000 others. Economic losses could reach$3,300bn (pounds 2,100bn). "The potential total economic loss is staggering ... 44-70 per cent of Japan's gross domestic product in 1994," the report concludes.

Seismically, 1995 was an alarming year, not just for Japan, but for the whole western Pacific Rim. In May, a town on the island of Sakhalin, in the Russian Far East, was destroyed by an intense, localised earthquake. Seismic activity throughout the Japanese archipelago has been unusually high, with tsunami (tidal wave) warnings issued after submarine quakes off the northern island of Hokkaido, as well as the Amami Islands in the far south.

On the precise scale and timing of a future Tokyo earthquake, there is little consensus, and the impossibility of accurate earthquake prediction in Kobe proved deadly. A 1972 study had predicted a tremor of magnitude 7, but the city authorities chose to believe other reports, and made emergency plans on the basis of a quake of maximum magnitude five. In the event, last January's disaster was 7.2; the inadequacy of the emergency response cost lives.

The report underlines the fact that, twelve months after Kobe, Japan's worst natural disaster since 1923, little has been achieved to diminish the impact of future catastrophes.

Some scientists argue that the Kanto earthquake, which has struck at roughly 70 year intervals for the past 300 years, is not inevitable, but all agree that Tokyo, one of the world's most densely populated areas, lies virtually on top of one of Japan's most seismically active zones. A plan is being studied, with the approval of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, to relocate the national government to a more stable city in the first quarter of the 21st century.

In the meantime, the process of reinforcing the city's buildings and roads is painfully slow. In Tokyo the concrete supports for the overhead expressways, which collapsed so spectacularly in Kobe, number 7,200. Two thousand are set to be reinforced, but the city authorities cannot say how many, if any, have so far been completed.

Even given an agreed earthquake magnitude, variables make the task of calculating casualties almost impossible. Compared to the Stanford University report, the Tokyo City Government predicts fatalities of just 9,400. The National Land Agency, on the other hand, cites a maximum figure of 350,000 killed or injured.

"If [the Kobe quake] happened during peak hours in Tokyo, one million would die, and all we could do is watch our houses burn," Professor Takayoshi Igarashi of Tokyo's Hosei University said. "There's only one lesson from Kobe, and that is that the government can do nothing."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy