Dhe people are running for their lives. They were just sitting in their cars, waiting at a traffic light in rush hour traffic. Now they throw open the doors and rush across the multi-lane road. Only then does the image from the traffic camera show why they are doing this. The rubble of a house falls onto the street from the side. The entire building threatens to collapse onto the cars, but then remains in a bizarre slanted position.

Tim Kanning

Correspondent for economics and politics in Japan based in Tokyo.

Images and videos of such collapsed houses are quickly making the rounds after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake off the east coast of Taiwan shook the entire island nation at 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning. They give rise to fears of the worst, especially since a tsunami warning is immediately issued for the southern islands of Japan and the Philippines with feared three-meter-high waves. And yet the number of victims of the catastrophe remains surprisingly low. By evening, the Taiwanese authorities reported nine dead and 821 injured.

The relatively benign outcome is reminiscent of the quake on New Year's Day on the Japanese Noto peninsula, in which around 230 people were killed after tremors of magnitude 7.5. Things looked very different in Turkey last year. According to official information, a similarly strong quake there claimed more than 50,000 victims. On the one hand, the varying severity of the consequences is an expression of the fact that earthquakes that have the same magnitude can have very different effects on the earth's surface.

Protection in the dining table cave

But the comparatively low number of victims in the two earthquakes along the Pacific Ring of Fire show something else: Here, where the earth trembles many times a year, the authorities and, above all, the citizens do a lot to prepare for an emergency – with special construction methods , earthquake training for children and boxes full of dry food.

Image: dpa

Site visit to a disaster training center on the outskirts of Tokyo: It is very cramped for four adults under the small dining table. Everyone clings to a table leg because the floor shakes like it used to in the fair carousel. And the shaking doesn't want to stop. “Leave each other under the table, be nice to each other,” shouts the man in the black suit, with a white breathing mask and white gloves, who is watching the action from a safe distance. “In Fukushima the earth shook like that for three minutes. Above all, your heads must be protected,” he says. Then a cupboard falls into the back of one of the men who didn't crawl far enough under the table. He groans.

When the shaking finally stops, the three men and a woman emerge from their dining table cave and the man in the black suit calls out: “You have to think about three things now. Do you remember which one?” Think briefly. Then one of the men goes to the stove and turns off the gas, another turns on the main switch of the fuse box. What was the third? Oh right: Open all doors so that escape routes are clear in the event of an aftershock.

What if an earthquake hits Tokyo?

Luckily the cupboard the man got was only made of foam, there is no real boiling water on the stove. And the shaking wasn't really a magnitude 7 earthquake. The room in which the four participants had to crawl under the table belongs to the Tachikawa Disaster Prevention Center, where the fire department and the city want to teach citizens how to deal with an emergency should react.

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