Japan puts tsunami lessons to good use

Massive tsunami waves slammed into Japan’s north eastern coast more than five years ago, killing about 18 000 people and prompting authorities to revise warning systems and evacuation plans to try to save more lives.

On Tuesday, when a magnitude 7.4 quake hit the same area, the country swung into action, using lessons learnt in the March11 2011, disaster to ensure coastal residents evacuated well before the much smaller wave shit.

In 2011,warning broadcasts were mostly limited to TV, radio, and officials using loud speakers, with firemen in trucks roaming the roads, telling residents to flee to higher ground.

But on that day some of these failed due to power outages after the magnitude 9.0 quake, while many fire fighters were killed when the waves – 30 metres high in places – rushed ashore.

Alerts are now more elaborate, with, for example, the town of Iwaki blasting warnings to cellphones in the area, sending e-mail messages and broadcasting on radio.

Previous elaborate systems designating specific evacuation centres have also been abandoned along the coast.

“Now, we basically just tell people to stay away from the sea, to head to the highest possible ground,” an Iwaki official said.

As a result, as sirens wailed shortly after dawn yesterday, ships headed out of harbours to deeper water and lines of cars snaked up nearby hills seeking safety.

Radio announcers also abandoned their usual careful modulation for an unsettling note of urgency, repeatedly telling listeners: “Do not go near the water – a tsunami is coming!”

There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries this time, although a wave up to1.4 metres high was recorded, together with several smaller waves.

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