VOX POPULI: Nankai Trough quake projection a wake-call for nation

September 01, 2012

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

Ever since the Great East Japan Earthquake, "zettai anzen" (absolutely safe) and "soteigai" (beyond assumption) have become two Japanese expressions we think twice before using. The former is no longer believable and the latter has lost its validity as an excuse.

"Well prepared means no worries," goes an old saying. But that's not true in real life. There is no such thing as excessive pessimism when planning a disaster response program.

According to government-appointed panels of experts, a mega-quake in the Nankai Trough off the coast of the Tokai region would result in 320,000 deaths at worst. The number is 13 times higher than a previous projection made in 2003. The latest projection was made with the experts taking into consideration data from the March 11, 2011, quake.

The worst-case scenario envisions the Nankai Trough quake striking late at night in winter and triggering towering tsunami. Estimated fatalities include 230,000 from the tsunami and another 90,000 perishing under collapsed buildings while fires rage.

As the epicenter would not be far from the coast, the tsunami would hit within a few minutes of the jolt. The tsunami's projected height is 19 meters at the Hamaoka nuclear power station, where an 18-meter-high breakwater is currently under construction. This is far from reassuring, but at least I hope the breakwater would save the power station from complete submersion.

As the Tokai region is home to many auto plants and other factories, damage to the economy is projected at a whopping hundreds of trillions of yen.

As the fatalities are estimated at 100,000 in Shizuoka Prefecture alone, I cannot but feel deeply concerned about my relatives and old school friends there. I am especially worried about a family member living alone in our 50-year-old family home.

I imagine my fear is shared by many people, which would probably strengthen the spirit of mutual help.

The inconceivably grim scenario is enough to make anyone want to look the other way. But becoming fatalistic and despairing of survival would be the ultimate insult to those who perished in the March 11 disaster.

The experts say that the fatalities could be reduced to about 60,000 if steps are taken now to earthquake-proof buildings and if everyone flees inland as fast as they can when the quake hits.

Expecting the worst and doing the best is basic to crisis management. We should take the mega-quake's projected damage as a wake-up call, not just as an idle threat by the government.

No matter how unpleasant it is to think about, I believe it is far better than being unprepared and jolted awake and carried away by the tsunami.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
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