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Astronomer Predicts Major Quake in Japan - 2003-09-15

An astronomer in Japan is causing a stir with a prediction of an impending major earthquake in the Tokyo area. The prediction, first posted on Internet web sites, has some Japanese making preparations for an imminent disaster.

Although officials and scientists say no present technology can predict earthquakes, some Japanese are heeding the prediction made by Yoshio Kushida. The self-taught astronomer turned earthquake forecaster says he has developed a way to predict the timing and intensity of tremors by monitoring very high frequency radio waves.

That research has led Mr. Kushida to predict that a magnitude seven or greater quake will shake the Tokyo metropolitan area soon - most likely, he claims, Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr. Kushida says that just before big earthquakes, tiny cracks and movements of magma cause electro-magnetic disturbances, which can be monitored on FM radio receivers. Mr. Kushida says he analyzed such data from the 1995 Kobe earthquake - which killed six-thousand people - and that led him to his prediction.

As news of his alert spread through the Internet over the past few days and was picked up by other media, some nervous people in Tokyo began stocking up on bottled water, flashlights and other emergency supplies.

One young company worker says he always keeps a flashlight by his bed, but he will probably stock up on bottled water and other essentials this evening. But others, so far, are unfazed.

Twenty-seven year Atsuko Yamashita says if she hears an emergency preparedness warning through a public loudspeaker or on the radio, then she will act. Otherwise, she is not planning to do anything out of the ordinary.

Japan's Central Meteorological Agency says it is aware of Mr. Kushida's warning but says the government has nothing to say specifically about it. Mr. Kushida - who is credited with discovering two comets - acknowledges his reputation will be damaged if no earthquake occurs, but says it is worth the risk because it is important to warn the public of a possible disaster.

Officials and scientists agree that Tokyo is overdue for a huge earthquake, but they insist there is no way to accurately predict when it will happen.

A huge tremor and resulting fires devastated Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923, killing more than 120,000 people.