Wed, May 28, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Japanese quake proves readiness


The two earthquakes struck within days of each other, unleashing roughly the same devastating power. The killer quake in Algeria left thousands dead. Its counterpart in Japan left hardly a scratch.

Monday's quake in northern Japan was estimated at a potentially disastrous magnitude 7, but it left an aftermath of only minor injuries and cracked plaster, underscoring how readiness and good luck helped Japan temper the carnage seen in other quake-prone lands.

Experts warned, however, that Japan -- notoriously susceptible to quakes and whose crowded capital is well overdue for the Big One -- may not be so lucky next time.

Minor temblors continued to shake northeastern Japan yesterday, more than 12 hours after the initial earthquake set off landslides, causing a temporary blackout in 35,000 households and leaving more than 100 people injured.

It was the strongest quake to hit Japan in more than two years and shook buildings in the capital, Tokyo, hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter. This city of nearly 1 million, about 300km northeast of Tokyo, was the largest urban center in the quake area.

Though there was still a fear of landslides and traffic remained snarled, the impact of the quake was surprisingly small.

Police said 104 people were hurt, but most of the injuries were minor and none were believed to be life-threatening.

Life in this city was already back to normal.

"I've never experienced a bigger earthquake in my life. It was scary, we were lucky there was no damage," said Noriko Fujimoto, 25, who was back at work as usual in a coffee shop near the train station here.

Experts said the depth of the epicenter was key.

"The biggest reason it didn't cause so much damage was because it occurred at a very deep spot, about 70km underground," said Yoshimitsu Okada, a seismologist at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention.

"If it had been shallower," he said, "it could have been a major disaster."

A magnitude 7 quake can cause major damage over a widespread area. More than 6,000 people were killed in the western city of Kobe when a magnitude-7.2 quake struck there in 1995.

The devastating earthquake that rocked northern Algeria last week, killing at least 2,047 people, was actually weaker than the one that hit here. The Algeria quake was estimated at a magnitude 6.8, but it was focused just 10km underground.

Japan is one of the world's most seismically vulnerable countries and has accordingly adopted tough building standards and mapped out readiness procedures.

On Monday, police, fire departments and local governments immediately established emergency disaster headquarters, and the few fires that broke out after the quake were quickly extinguished.

Water and electricity outages were generally fixed within a few hours, and most bars and restaurants remained open as usual.

Unlike the chaos that ensued after the quake in Algeria, most residents here reacted to Monday's tremor with relative calm -- because quakes are so frequent, many Japanese have become jaded to the occasional jolt from underground.

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