Big Tokyo quake could catch commuters short -report

TOKYO, Oct 28 (Reuters) - A major quake in Tokyo would force millions of commuters to try to get home on foot, and their journey could be made more difficult by a dire shortage of toilets, a government panel warned in a report this week.

The report, which added that many areas of Tokyo would run short of toilet paper within 24 hours of a powerful quake, was splashed across the front page of the Sankei newspaper on Tuesday, under the headline "820,000 toilet refugees."

The capital's transport network would likely grind to a halt after a strong quake and water supply would be disrupted, making many of the capital's public conveniences unusable, the Cabinet Office disaster prevention panel said.

"The biggest problem faced by survivors of the Kobe earthquake was not food or clothing, but a lack of toilets," the panel said, referring to the 1995 quake in the western Japanese city, which killed more than 6,400 people.

Lack of sanitation would not only be unpleasant, but would put quake victims at risk of disease, the report said.

Those working and studying in the most crowded central areas of the capital are likely to find less than half the required number of toilets are available.

The panel urged employers to have makeshift toilets on hand, and said commuters should stay overnight at offices and schools so as to stagger their travel times and avoid the risk of the capital's streets becoming as crowded as a rush hour commuter train.

One expert recommended individuals make their own basic preparations, the Sankei said.

"Even if you just have a plastic bag and a packet of tissues, that will make a big difference," the paper quoted the panel's chairman as saying.

The panel's calculations were based on a 7.3 magnitude quake hitting Tokyo Bay -- something that is seen by experts as a likely scenario. Up to 11,000 people could be killed in such a quake and 7 million made homeless, the report said.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone nations, accounting for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater. In 1923, a quake of magnitude 7.9 hit the Tokyo area, killing more than 140,000 people. (Reporting by Isabel Reynolds)