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Japan holds nationwide disaster drills assuming major quakes

People participate in a bucket-brigade drill organized by nine local governments in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Sept. 1, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Annual disaster drills were held across Japan on Saturday, with the central government-led exercise based on a scenario that a massive earthquake originating in the Nankai Trough in the Pacific had rocked wide areas in central and western Japan.

Local governments also conducted their own drills assuming major quakes and tsunami in a bid to improve preparedness for the natural disasters that often strike the island nation.

The nationwide exercises are held every Sept. 1, or Disaster Prevention Day, which marks the anniversary of a magnitude 7.9 temblor that devastated Tokyo and its vicinity in 1923.

Prime Minster Shinzo Abe assembled his entire Cabinet and ordered full efforts to save lives based on the scenario of an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 occurring at 7:10 a.m. off the coast of the western prefecture of Wakayama.

Police conduct a bus evacuation drill along the border of Tokyo's Setagaya Ward and Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Sept. 1, 2018, on the assumption that a powerful earthquake caused a traffic accident. (Mainichi)

"I urge you to quickly assess the damage and address this critical situation through cooperation," Abe said.

The government anticipates a probability of 70-80 percent for a Nankai Trough megaquake, with a magnitude of 8 or 9, to occur in Japan within the next 30 years and produce massive tsunami, estimating a death toll of up to 300,000 people.

The prime minister later joined a drill in Kawasaki near Tokyo, organized by nine metropolitan municipalities including Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture.

In collaboration with the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard, the drill assumed that a magnitude 7.3 quake hit the industrial district facing Tokyo Bay and triggered a fire at a petroleum tank.

In the drill, Abe and a group of junior high school students improvised a stretcher with a blanket and laundry poles and carried a person assumed to be injured on it.

Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department held a joint drill with police forces in neighboring prefectures, involving about 200 officers, to shut parts of a national road to secure routes for use by emergency vehicles.

The town of Shichigahama in Miyagi Prefecture, an area devastated by a massive earthquake in March 2011, held a drill to respond to an assumed magnitude 9.0 temblor off Miyagi and ensuing tsunami and fires.

In southwestern Japan, the town of Mashiki in Kumamoto Prefecture held a drill confirming steps in its initial response to a powerful earthquake. The town was ravaged by a series of major earthquakes in April 2016 and has revised its anti-disaster plan to stipulate the roles of local officials.

The city of Kyoto chose an area including Arashiyama, a popular tourist district, to conduct training responding to a strong earthquake. About 90 people, including employees of hotels and souvenir shops, practiced guiding tourists to a temporary shelter set up on the premises of a temple.

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