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Major quake may hit Tokyo sooner-than-expected

Researchers from Tokyo University say a large earthquake may hit Tokyo sooner-than-expected. Government figures show a 70 percent chance of a big quake hitting Tokyo in the next 30 years, but researcher Shin'ichi Sakai says this may happen in the next four years. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) SHIN'ICHI SAKAI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, EARTHQUAKE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, SAYING: "When we did the calculations last summer, tectonic activity was up by about six or seven times. At that time, we established there was a 98 percent chance of a quake within 30 years -- or for the next four years, it would likely be 70 percent." Sakai adds the university's calculations are based on newer data, collected after the great earthquake last March. The teams notes a fivefold increase in the number of quakes in the Tokyo metropolitan area since the disaster. The news adds a new level of urgency to local officials, who are already preparing for a shock. In Kamakura prefecture, two hours from Tokyo, planners like Toshiaki Kawasaki are turning to history, to get ready for the worst. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) TOSHIAKI KAWASAKI, HEAD OF KANAGAWA PREFECTURE RIVER BASIN AND COASTAL PLANNING DIVISION, SAYING: "We thought we should conceive the inconceivable for tsunamis, so we looked at historical earthquakes that hadn't been part of our thinking before. There are records that show the Meio Earthquake of 1498 created a tsunami that reached right up to Kamakura's Great Buddha; we wanted to put those sorts of tsunamis, too, into our plans." Records speak of a tsunami more than five centuries ago, that swept 14-metre-high waves near Kamakura's Buddha. Present contingency plans factor in seven-metre high waves. Tokyo residents like Namiko Goto reacted to the possibility of a quake in the next four years, with a mixture of resignation and fear. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) TOKYO RESIDENT NAMIKO GOTO, SAYING: "It's difficult to put into words what I'd do if one hit, it's like I can't think. I'm panicking just at the thought. My heart's racing." (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) UNIDENTIFIED MAN WEARING FACE MASK, SAYING: "Well Japan's a nation of earthquakes, so I don't know exactly what calculations they used, but it wouldn't really be a surprise if one hit, would it?" The Japanese government estimates a 7.3 magnitude quake, centred north of Tokyo Bay, could cause about 11,000 casualties and destroy 850,000 buildings. Arnold Gay, Reuters.

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