TOKYO -- Last year's earthquake-tsunami in Japan killed 19,000 people and derailed the global auto industry for months. But that disaster could be small potatoes compared to two quakes expected to hit Tokyo and Japan's industrial heartland -- someday.
New nightmare scenarios for those quakes predict tens of thousands dead, another devastating tsunami and hundreds of thousands of buildings destroyed. The only question is when.
At issue are two long-anticipated temblors, according to scientists' predictions based on known fault lines. One is centered on Tokyo, similar to the 1923 Kanto earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people. A second is in the Nankai Trough off the Pacific coast in western Japan, south of Osaka, Japan's second-biggest city.
A new government estimate, released last month, says up to 323,000 people could die in a massive Nankai disaster. That assumes a worst-case scenario of a 9.0-magnitude quake hitting during a winter night. The earlier death estimate, from a 2003 study, was for less than one-tenth of that: 24,700.
The government raised the death toll, partially to account for a bigger disaster zone, something deemed necessary after the experience of the 9.0 quake that struck March 11, 2011.
Separately, a Sept. 4 briefing by the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute laid out new, more worrisome, damage predictions for a Tokyo quake.
The institute's grim predictions for a 7.3-magnitude quake hammering Japan's biggest city:
- 10,000 dead, 148,000 injured.
- 304,000 buildings destroyed.
- 3.39 million evacuees.
- Economic losses of $14.3 trillion.