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Japan takes earthquake safety seriously. Here’s how its culture of preparedness keeps so many people alive.

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Business Insider, January 2024

Japan’s Noto Peninsula is reeling from its most powerful earthquake in a century, but the death toll is remarkably low. The 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the peninsula in central Japan on January 1, violently rattling buildings, triggering landslides, starting fires, and even forcing land upward to create new beaches on the coast. Such quakes can be incomprehensibly deadly. When a pair of tremors of similar magnitude hit Turkey and Syria last year, the disaster resulted in at least 56,000 deaths. In 2010 in Haiti, a 7.0 earthquake and its aftershocks killed up to 300,000 people. In 2005, a 7.6 quake killed at least 79,000 in Pakistan. As of Friday, however, the death toll from Japan’s latest temblor was 94 people, Reuters reported.

It’s no coincidence. Just look at the mega-disaster Japan experienced in 2011, much bigger than this latest quake. That March, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami and a nuclear power-plant meltdown. While over 18,000 people died, the World Bank noted that Japan’s history of preparedness helped many evacuate and likely saved lives. The situation on the Noto Peninsula is dire, to be sure. The January 1 quake may have been the strongest one felt in the region in over 100 years, according to Nature. Over 200 people are unaccounted for and 30 villages remain inaccessible, while the rubble-ridden Wajima city is short of food and water for roughly 11,000 evacuees sheltering there, Reuters reported. Japan’s quake resilience isn’t perfect, but experts say the nation is doing some things right: investing in infrastructure, enforcing strict building codes, and training its citizenry.

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