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Japanese say careful preparations saved them from quake

A family checks collapsed tombstones following a powerful earthquake in Hirono, Iwate prefecture, some 560-kilometre north of Tokyo on July 24, 2008. The 6.8 Richter-scale earthquake struck just after midnight on the mountainous northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu, shattering windows and triggering landslides that blocked key roads on the Pacific coast. Photo courtesy AFP

Number of injured in Japan quake reaches 200
The number of people injured in the 6.8-magnitude earthquake in northern Japan reached 200 Friday, according to the government. Of them, 38 sustained serious injuries, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. It added that 89 buildings were partly damaged in the quake, which occured early Thursday. The tremor shattered windows, triggered landslides and cracked buildings -- and was also felt strongly in Tokyo, some 800 kilometres (500 miles) to the south -- but caused no deaths.
by Staff Writers
Hachinohe, Japan (AFP) July 25, 2008
Residents of northern Japan said Friday that careful preparations and lessons learned from previous earthquakes limited the damage caused by the latest major tremor to hit the region.

The earthquake-prone country is constantly preparing for the dreaded "Big One" and has built an infrastructure designed to withstand big tremors, which in much of the world would cause a large number of casualties.

Thursday's 6.8-magnitude quake shattered windows, triggered landslides and cracked buildings -- and was also felt strongly in Tokyo, some 800 kilometres (500 miles) to the south -- but miraculously caused no deaths.

"We had much more damage in the last big one in 1994," said Masayuki Ueno, 49, who manages a photo studio in Hachinohe, one of the biggest cities on the northern tip of Japan's main island Honshu.

"After the last quake hit, I threw out the entire exterior and bolstered the building structure, adding about 10 tonnes of reinforced steel," he said.

"I think many people in this area make sure to have extra support on their houses."

National authorities said a total of 158 people were injured in the latest earthquake, including 35 seriously. There were no reports of deaths or missing people.

Hachinohe in 1994 was hit by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake that killed two people and injured 680 others in the city alone.

That quake, which struck off the coastal city in the Pacific, was followed by an aftershock of magnitude 6.9, completely flattening 90 buildings.

But Hachinohe's disaster prevension office reported no buildings were flattened or even half destroyed in Thursday's earthquake.

"People in the city have developed a high level of awareness to prepare for major earthquakes," said Muneharu Araya, a deputy chief in Hachinohe's disaster prevention office.

"After the 1994 quake, the city hall also had to be rebuilt. Every time we have earthquakes, water pipes would break somewhere in the city," he told AFP.

"The city of Hachinohe therefore introduced quake-proof water pipes, whose joints are flexible, for the first time in the nation," he said.

Japan, which lies at the crossing of four tectonic plates, experiences 20 percent of the world's powerful earthquakes.

It holds regular drills to prepare disaster evacuations on September 1, the anniversary of a 1923 earthquake that levelled the Tokyo area, killing nearly 143,000 people.

Just one month ago, a 7.2-magnitude quake hit elsewhere in northern Honshu, leaving 23 people dead or missing.

People here said they were prepared for -- or at least accustomed -- to earthquakes.

"Since we felt small tremors recently, we thought something big would hit pretty soon," said Rieko Futatsuya, 65, who worked as a wholesaler of Japanese confectionery until three months ago.

"This time, a few cooking pans fell off and several dishes broke. That's it."

Ryoko Iwaoka, 50, who runs a cake shop on the main street near the city hall, said she now never leaves expensive cake plates on top of the glass showcase.

"Now I make sure to stack the plates on a sturdy counter so they won't slide down," she said, as she cast an eye on a local newspaper reporting on the quake.

But Iwaoka admitted luck was also a factor.

"We were lucky this time because it happened in summer," she said. "Last time in 1994, it was very cold in winter. The water supply stopped and we didn't have access to gas to keep ourselves warm."

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Asia forges agreement towards joint disaster taskforce
Singapore (AFP) July 24, 2008
Asia's top security forum agreed Thursday on military exercises aimed at forging a regional taskforce to deal with calamities like those that struck Myanmar and China this year.

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