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Fukushima Anniversary

Tsunami zones flagged in just 30% of Japan's danger areas

Locals balk at official designations, citing hit to property values

Entire sections of cities have been relocated to higher ground in some cases, such as Higashi-matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- A decade after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, the government has made little progress on designating vulnerable areas amid fears by residents that property values will decline.

Legislation passed after the 2011 disaster aims to better prepare areas for tsunami crises. But of the 40 prefectures facing tsunami risks, only 11 have completed the process of designating tsunami warning zones under the act, according to the land ministry.

Six prefectures, including Hokkaido and Shizuoka, had identified some danger zones, while 23 prefectures have yet to make any designations.

Work to raise levees and bring buildings to higher ground continues in Iwate and Miyagi, both facing the northeastern coast. Flood assessments, a prerequisite for designating a tsunami zone, have not been finalized.

Fukushima Prefecture, the site of the meltdowns at the Daiichi nuclear power plant, also has not designated tsunami danger zones.

Reaching consensus with affected municipalities and residents has thrown up roadblocks for many prefectures. There are worries that designation as a tsunami warning area could brand a town as dangerous, tarnishing its image and dragging down land prices.

Niigata Prefecture named 12 municipalities as tsunami warning zones in January 2020 but could not reach an agreement with the city of Niigata, the municipality with the largest area at risk of flooding.

City authorities argue that about half the 100 sq. km flagged by the prefecture is inland lowlands that would take 12 hours or more for water to reach. Treating them the same as coastal areas that would be hit directly would impose unnecessary constraints, the city argues.

In areas deemed prone to tsunami damage, schools and hospitals draft evacuation plans and municipalities determine locations where displaced residents can take shelter. Delays in the designations result in preparations for action plans getting pushed back.

Prefectures are not legally required to designate tsunami warning areas, and certain municipalities have taken precautions on their own. But the ministry says the warning zone system "contributes to the establishment of evacuation systems and awareness of disaster preparedness among residents."

Kochi Prefecture has not named tsunami warning areas, though it has adopted other countermeasures in light of the risk of a potentially massive earthquake along the Nankai Trough. Yet surveys show that residents who would evacuate early at the first signs of a quake peaked at 69.5% in fiscal 2013 and have since failed to improve.

The prefecture, seeing a need to further raise awareness, has begun working on warning zone designations and aims to wrap up the process in fiscal 2021.

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