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Quake-hit prefecture launches police training on disaster rescue

KOBE (Kyodo) -- Japan's first official police training program on how to use equipment such as chainsaws and engine cutters in rescuing disaster victims has been launched in the western prefecture of Hyogo.

    The initiative aimed at saving more people in time of disasters followed the loss of many lives due to a lack of proper rescue tools and skills following a magnitude 7.3-quake in Kobe in January 1995 that killed more than 6,400 people. The area is also bracing for an anticipated Nankai Trough megaquake.

    A total of 57 police officers experienced in handling the rescue equipment have been assigned to the prefecture's 49 police stations to better equip personnel with techniques to save disaster victims.

    In the first training session, conducted Jan. 9 at the Suijo police station in Kobe, about 30 officers learned how to cut metal with rescue tools.

    Akihiro Ishizuka, a 24-year-old police officer said, "I want to undergo the training with a sense of tension so that I can use the skill in a time of disaster."

    The program was initiated based on the experience of 47-year-old inspector Hiroyuki Matsumoto, who struggled to save lives following the 1995 quake without proper tools. He is now in charge of the training drills.

    On Jan. 17, 1995, Matsumoto, then a police officer at the Kakogawa police station in western Hyogo, saw many people seeking help in Kobe as he headed to the Hyogo police station in Kobe by car.

    He tried to rescue a woman trapped under a collapsed house, but failed as he only had a shovel and a pick.

    "I could not even think of what tools were necessary. With an engine cutter, I might have been able to save her," he said.

    Following the quake, the Hyogo prefectural police have beefed up disaster response measures. Although more tools have been installed, boosting the skills of each officer remains a challenge.

    "By properly using good tools, we hope to save as many lives as possible," said Matsumoto.


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