Japan to check concrete walls after Osaka quake deaths

Schools across the country are being told to ‘urgently’ inspect their walls after a nine-year-old girl was crushed to death in Monday’s earthquake

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 9:15pm

Japan’s government ordered an emergency inspection of breeze block walls at schools nationwide on Tuesday, a day after an earthquake in Osaka killed five people, two of whom were crushed by falling walls.

The death toll rose to five on Tuesday after a 66-year-old man was found dead under a number of books and CDs in his home, a local government spokeswoman said.

The magnitude 6.1 earthquake that struck Osaka during Monday’s morning rush hour injured more than 370 people in the region, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The quake also damaged many buildings and disrupted traffic.

The death of nine-year-old Rina Miyake just outside her school in Takatsuki has sparked concerns about breeze block walls and prompted authorities to call for safety checks.

An 80-year-old man was also killed by a collapsing wall.

Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters he was ordering all public primary and secondary schools across the country to “urgently” inspect their walls. Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Keiichi Ishii said he planned to raise awareness of the potential risks of breeze block walls among private owners as well.

Concrete walls made from stacked breeze blocks are a known risk in earthquakes but the danger has been largely ignored even though the current building codes call for walls built before 1981 to be upgraded. Japan introduced stricter quake-resistant standards in 1981 after breeze block walls caused deaths and injuries in a 1978 quake.

Japanese schools have generally upgraded the safety of classrooms and other buildings to meet the current anti-quake standards, but many of the old breeze block walls have been left untouched. Past surveys around neighbourhoods of schools have shown that many walls lacked reinforcements.

Officials in Takatsuki acknowledged on Monday that the wall at the municipal-run Juei school that collapsed and killed the girl exceeded the legal height limit of 2.2 metres (yards). On Tuesday, police investigated the site and city officials on suspicion of professional negligence.

Elsewhere in the hardest hit areas, relief workers and residents continued their work to get life back to normal, but many homes were without clean water or gas.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse