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Saturday, 25 April 2015

Earthquake!

Well not while I was there! After Takayama I went to the city of Kobe, its main claim to fame was that it suffered a major earthquake. This year is the 20th anniversary of that quake, on January 17th 1995, at 5.46am a large earthquake, which had its epicentre on nearby Awaji Island, hit Kobe. (There is a visitor's centre over the epicentre, I have been there and you can see the cracks of the fault lines)

The earthquake was devastating not just because of its magnitude but also in that it ruptured the gas lines in Kobe, so many people were killed in the fires that wiped out whole neighbourhoods, the road were blocked the fire engines couldn't get close to fight any of the fires and there were people burnt alive in their home. With open gas lines the fires were fed until they lines could be manually shut off, unlike Tokyo which has automatic shut down of the gas lines incase of an earthquake other cities didn't at the time since the Japanese believed the next major quake was due to hit Tokyo. 

I came to live in Kobe after the earthquake but it was still fresh enough in people's minds that I was constantly fascinated to hear 'earthquake stories' of what life was like in Kobe during and after the earthquake.


This clock is on a building in Kitano, it stopped at the precise moment the earthquake it, and it remains as a memorial of the quake.


This is the Earthquake Memorial site at Meriken Park. Meriken Park is a large pier built on reclaimed land and opened in 1987. (I read the sign!) It's called Meriken Park since it was situated near what had been the American Consulate. The whole port area was damaged by the earthquake as well as the recreational pier. But access to Kobe from the water was the only way that supplies could come into Kobe in the aftermath of the earthquake. The rail-lines were buckled so trains couldn't come in and the expressways had sections of them that had collapsed, the city for all intents and purposes was completely cut off from the rest of Japan. So ships were used and disaster zone strategies put into place to unload those ships. According to people I spoke to, as the weeks went on and the people of Kobe would tire of living without water and heat (if their buildings were undamaged) they could also take a ship across the bay to Osaka and stay in a hotel for a weekend to shower, be warm live in First World conditions again.


From the memorial looking back into Kobe, the elevated expressway can easily be seen, sections of the main arterial expressways collapsed so that it wasn't possible for vehicles to enter the city. Overland by foot was the only way in. One of my work colleagues had been working in another part of Japan and came to Osaka to volunteer with the relief effort. (The Kobe earthquake was the first time that large scale volunteerism came to be seen in Japan) My colleague was American, she explained how volunteers were given backpacks with firstaid materials, they then caught the train as close as they could get to Kobe from Osaka and then walked the rest of the way into Kobe.


Elevated expressways in Japan are constructed in such a way that if there is an earthquake then only sections will collapse and so can be repaired quickly. This is the main road onto and off Port Island (an artificial island just off the city centre) during the earthquake a top section collapsed onto the road below, cutting off any vehicular access to the island. The only way on or off the island was the pedestrian crossing so people piled their possessions onto bikes and then evacuated to relatives' homes in other parts of Japan. Since I ended up being housed in an apartment on the island by my employers one of the first things I asked was how did the buildings fare? Quite well it seems with little damage but it being an artificial island water rose up a through the ground a phenomenon called 'liquefaction' there are still marks on some buildings showing how high the water rose. The island residents had no water, no electricity and no gas which is why some decided to evacuate. As described to me, the stream of people with the possessions loaded onto bicycles was like a scene from a refugee movie, or a war movie with civilians trying to find refuge. The residents that remained had their electricity and gas reconnected within weeks but no water for 3 months. Water trucks would come and people filled up large water bottles and then haul them home.

Earthquake stories did fascinate me as to how a First World modern city was reduced to Third World conditions in a matter of minutes.

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