Prepare for aftershocks, coronavirus after latest Tohoku earthquake

Strong tremors measuring up to upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 have hit the Tohoku region again, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The central and local governments must closely cooperate and make efforts to ensure the safety of local residents.

An earthquake with its epicenter off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture struck late at night on Feb. 13. The magnitude-7.3 temblor shook a wide range of areas, mainly in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. The focus of the earthquake was located at a depth of about 55 kilometers. Fortunately, there was no damage from tsunami.

It was the first time since April 2011 that an aftershock of the Great East Japan Earthquake has registered upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. It is shocking to think of the powerful threat of nature, which can produce aftershocks of this magnitude 10 years after the March 11 disaster. Many people were probably terrified as memories of that time came back to them.

More than 150 people suffered minor or serious injuries due to falls and other circumstances. A large-scale landslide occurred on the Joban Expressway in Fukushima Prefecture. Operations on the Tohoku Shinkansen line have been suspended in one section because of damage to utility poles for overhead wires and cracks in elevated bridge pillars.

The government has set up a task force to deal with the earthquake in the crisis management center at the Prime Minister’s Office. In response to a request from the Fukushima prefectural government for disaster relief operations, the Ground Self-Defense Force engaged in activities such as information gathering and water provision. First and foremost, utmost efforts should be made to support disaster victims and help afflicted areas recover from the damage.

There is a possibility that aftershocks of a similar scale will occur for the next week or so. Tsunami concerns are also unavoidable. As affected areas have been hit by heavy rain, they also need to be cautious of possible landslides. It is important to take all possible measures to prepare for such scenarios without making assumptions.

Evacuation centers have been set up in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. If aftershocks continue, many evacuees will converge on shelters, raising the risk of infection with the novel coronavirus. A combined disaster involving the earthquake and the coronavirus must be avoided.

When Typhoon No. 10 struck in autumn last year, many evacuation centers were unable to shelter residents because the capacity of facilities had been reduced as part of measures to prevent infections. It is vital to share information among local governments and ensure there are enough shelters. It is also necessary to consider dispersing evacuations using hotels and other accommodation facilities.

At evacuation centers, it is important to take thorough measures to prevent the spread of the infectious disease, such as ensuring spaces are well ventilated even in cold weather and contriving ways to keep evacuees a safe distance apart.

The first coronavirus vaccinations in Japan will begin as early as this week. Vaccines made by Pfizer Inc. must be stored at ultralow temperatures. The quality of the vaccine could be affected if there is a power failure, which occurred in the latest earthquake. The government should reexamine the storage arrangements.

Many people are reported to have evacuated to higher ground immediately after the earthquake. If there is even the slightest danger of tsunami, it is important to escape without hesitation. People must be reminded of the lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

It is hoped that each of us will reconfirm evacuation routes and prepare necessary items for disaster and infection prevention.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 16, 2021.