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American servicemembers will participate with thousands of Japanese in joint earthquake disaster drills Sunday and Monday in Tokyo and Yokosuka, Japanese officials said.

Drill locations will include Yokota Air Base, Hardy Barracks and the USS Essex on Sunday. On Monday, Yokosuka Naval Base will participate in another annual earthquake preparation in Yokosuka city.

Japan is at the intersection of continental and oceanic plates that cause frequent and sometimes devastating earthquakes.

The Tokyo drill is held each year around the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which killed about 100,000 and leveled much of Tokyo and Yokohama.

"U.S. forces intend to use the experience to test internal processes and telecommunication links that would be used in the event of an actual crisis," U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Master Sgt. Terence Peck said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. "We have a range of flexible capabilities designed to respond to a full range of contingencies, including humanitarian and disaster relief operations."

The Tokyo city government said its drill on Sunday will include about 15,600 participants from the city, Japan Self-Defense Forces, Tokyo Electric Power Co., Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and local communities who will practice transporting disaster victims.

The drill scenario will indicate that a large-scale earthquake hits Tokyo Bay around 6 p.m. and causes widespread damage, the city said.

The Essex crew will practice transporting about 100 mock disaster victims by landing craft from a park in Tokyo.

The Essex crew trained on Thursday in advance of the drill, according to the ship’s public affairs office.

Japan Air Self-Defense Force aircraft will land at Yokota to transport officers from Miyagi prefecture police forces and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police to areas where aid is needed.

At Hardy Barracks, the injured will be transferred from Ginza — where the scenario calls for the earthquake damage to be great — and taken by helicopter to a hospital in western Tokyo.

Kanagawa Prefecture officials said they will hold an earthquake drill on Labor Day that will include eight prefectures and cities around Tokyo and the U.S. military.

During the drill, Yokosuka Naval Base will assist local residents in firefighting, and Navy hospital staff will practice treating injuries with local health care workers.

An Army helicopter will transfer medical supplies, and the Navy will transfer the injured to the Essex by landing craft and treat them on board the ship, a prefecture official said.

The military will participate in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding of Mutual Assistance, which was signed by the Navy and Yokosuka city last year and by the Navy and Kanagawa Prefecture in February.

A similar agreement was signed by the Army and Kanagawa.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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