TOKYO — Japan’s government ordered an emergency inspection of cinder-block walls at schools nationwide on Tuesday, a day after an earthquake in Osaka killed four people, two of whom were crushed by falling walls.
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 9-year-old Rina Miyake just outside her school in Takatsuki city has sparked concerns about cinder-block walls and prompted authorities to call for safety checks. An 80-year-old man, who was on his way to volunteer in a neighborhood watch while schoolchildren walked to school, also was killed by a collapsing wall.
Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters he was ordering all public elementary and junior high schools nationwide to “urgently” inspect their walls. Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Keiichi Ishii said he planned to raise awareness of the potential risks of cinder-block walls among private owners as well.
Concrete walls made of stacked cinder-blocks are a known risk in earthquakes but the danger has been largely ignored even though the current building codes calls for walls built before 1981 to be upgraded. Japan introduced stricter quake-resistant standards in 1981 after cinder-block walls caused deaths and injuries in a 1978 quake.
Japanese schools have largely upgraded the safety of classrooms and other buildings to meet the current anti-quake standards, but many of those old cinder-block walls have been largely left untouched. Past prefectural surveys around neighborhoods of schools have showed the majority of walls have lacked additional safety reinforcement.
Officials in Takatsuki city acknowledged Monday that the wall at the municipal-run Juei school that broke and killed the girl had exceeded the legal height limit of 2.2 meters (yards). On Tuesday, police investigated the site and city officials on suspicion of professional negligence.
Elsewhere in the hardest hit areas including Takatsuki and Ibaraki, relief workers and residents continued their work to bring life back to normal, but many homes were without clean water or gas Tuesday.