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
Monday 15 January 1996
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."
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Greece debt crisis explained: A history of just how the country landed itself in such a mess
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Greek debt crisis: Yanis Varoufakis's funniest (and most memorable) quotes
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
Greece debt crisis explained: A history of just how the country landed itself in such a mess
German conservatives are destroying Europe with austerity, says economist Thomas Piketty
Man dies instantly after shooting firework from top of his head
Isis schoolgirl Amira Abase who fled London to join terrorists in Syria mocks victims of Tunisia massacre
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...
£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...
£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...