Sunday, October 24, 2004

Japanese Prime Minister enjoys movie festival while Niigata earthquake kills villagers

Hosoda dismisses criticism over PM not returning soon
after quake

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda brushed aside
criticism Sunday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
had stayed for the opening ceremony and screening at an
international film festival in Tokyo on Saturday after
being informed of the powerful earthquakes in Niigata

"I see no problem with that because it (attending the
ceremony) was in the line of duty," Hosoda told a press

Koizumi stayed for about an hour at the ceremony, at
which he gave a speech, and the screening at the cinema
complex before returning to his official residence to
deal with the quake.

When the first quake, of magnitude 6.8, struck northern
Japan at 5:56 p.m., Koizumi was in the hallway of the
Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel in the Roppongi Hills complex to
attend the ceremony but did not notice the tremor,
government officials said earlier.

Koizumi learned of the quake when he received a note
from his secretary at 6:07 p.m. after he finished giving
his speech.

At around 6:15 p.m., Koizumi headed by his private car,
equipped with television and telephone, for the cinema
where a movie directed by Yoji Yamada was to be shown.

Koizumi initially took his seat in the cinema, but
decided to return to his official residence after
receiving information that a Shinkansen bullet train had
been derailed by the quake and aftershocks were still
taking place.

Koizumi left the complex at 7:08 p.m. when starring
actors were giving speeches and arrived at his residence
at 7:27 p.m.

"We had the premier return to his residence, in
consideration of possible communication difficulties in
a cinema and also of the incident in 2001 when former
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was criticized for playing
golf after receiving reports about the Ehime Maru
training ship accident," said a source closed to the

Nine Japanese, including four students of the Uwajima
Fisheries High School, died in the sinking of the Ehime
Maru training ship off Hawaii in February 2001 after it
was rammed by a U.S. submarine. Twenty-six others aboard
the Ehime Maru were rescued, while no one on the sub was

1 comment:

  1. Shinkansen not safe?

    First-ever bullet train derailment reveals
    safety-system's limitations Japan Times says.

    The Toki No. 325 bullet train on the Joetsu Shinkansen
    Line was running at 210 kph when the first of a series
    of powerful quakes hit Niigata Prefecture shortly before
    6 p.m. Saturday evening.

    A derailed bullet train lies askew Sunday on the Joetsu
    Shinkansen Line near Nagaoka Station in Niigata

    Although none of its 151 passengers were injured, the
    train was derailed -- the first time a bullet train left
    the tracks since such trains began running with the
    launch of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line in 1964.

    "The train was running normally, when suddenly it swayed
    badly, and I almost hit my face on the back of the seat
    in front of me," said Eiichi Nakamura, 59, a company
    worker from the city of Niigata.

    Japan's railway engineers have taken great pride in the
    shinkansen system's record of no major accidents.

    But Saturday's quakes showed that even the shinkansen
    system can be vulnerable to temblors that hit directly

    JR East has installed seismometers at an interval of 20
    km along the Joetsu Shinkansen Line.

    When a seismometer detects a tremor of 40 gals or larger
    -- equivalent to an intensify of 4 on the Japanese scale
    of 7, the power supply to bullet trains is automatically
    cut off so they will halt without human intervention. JR
    East says the safety system is activated in less than a
    second after a quake is detected.

    But even after the system is launched and the brakes are
    applied, a train moving at 210 kph will still travel for
    2.5 km, taking 1 minute and 45 seconds to come to a
    complete halt, according to JR East.

    The seismometer near the scene of the derailment
    recorded a maximum tremor of 846 gals -- higher than the
    616 gals recorded in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.
    A gal is a unit of acceleration equal to a centimeter
    per second per second, which is used for the value of

    The Toki No. 325, which had left Tokyo for Niigata at
    4:20 p.m., was running on an elevated track about 6 km
    from Nagaoka Station.

    The first quake automatically shut down the power
    supply, activating a brake system. Eight of the train's
    10 cars derailed, and the last three cars were left
    tilted sideways by as much as 40 degrees.

    Although the derailed cars avoided hitting the side wall
    along the tracks, the sudden braking caused bags in
    overhead racks to fall to the floor, and passengers were
    left uneasy, wondering what had happened.

    Power was cut in four cars, whose passengers had to move
    to the other cars that had emergency lights.

    "The train crew were confused, and they were repeatedly
    saying, 'I don't know' as they communicated to somebody
    on the wireless. I felt very uneasy," said a 38-year-old
    man who was in the lead car on his way to visit his
    parents' home in Nakajo, Niigata Prefecture.

    Then the passengers used ladders to get off the train,
    and walked on the elevated railway in darkness for about
    two hours to reach Nagaoka Station.

    It was nearly six hours after the first quake that all
    of the passengers arrived safely at the station.

    "I could hardly hear people talk as we walked along the
    tracks," said a 56-year-old man from Niigata, who was on
    his way back from Tokyo with his wife.

    JR East said Sunday the Echizo Yuzawa-Niigata section of
    the Joetsu Shinkansen Line will probably remain out of
    service for weeks.

    The company found that a 900-meter-long stretch of rails
    at the accident site were knocked out of alignment,
    possibly due to the impact of the derailment.

    It plans to build scaffolding along the elevated track
    to hold cranes that will move the derailed cars back
    into position, and repair and check the tracks before
    resuming service.


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