Japan which is one of the richest and most technologically advanced countries in the world used to be considered well prepared for a major earthquake. That was before the Kobe disaster. Kobe is located farther than other Japanese cities from the dangerous intersection of three tectonic plates, the pacific, Eurasian, and Philippine. The earthquake which devastated the Japanese city had its epicentre 20 km to the south-west of Kobe in Osaka Bay and its magnitude was 7.2. A 30-50 km long rupture occurred close to and beneath Kobe and even two weeks after the first earthquake people could still feel 150 out of 1320 aftershocks. The earthquake did not just destroy the big city but also the nation’s confidence.
Kobe is an important route centre. It has motorway (Hanshin Expressway) and intercity railway lines passing through it and a large modern port which handles millions of tones of trade each year. It is the world’s sixth largest port. The earthquake caused a lot of damage to all the transport facilities. Port buildings and their contents were also badly damaged.
3-5 percent of Japan’s industry is located in and around Kobe. This includes most types of industry – from light manufacturing to high-technology and heavy industry.
The earthquake led to settlement and liquefaction in these areas. Industries affected included shipbuilding, steelworks, breweries, pharmaceutical, computer hardware and consumer goods. Many businesses and industries also moved away and never returned. Kobe also handles 12 percent of Japan’s exports. The damages to this area, and its people, will leave a major mark not just on the economy, but also on the future of Japanese society as a whole.
After the earthquake both citizens and specialists lost faith in the technology. The national government of Japan was also criticized for not acting quickly enough to save many people. Better communications could have saved many lives. Fortunately the earthquake proved to be a major wake-up call for Japanese disaster prevention authorities. Today schoolchildren in Japan are taught how to act and handle during an earthquake.
The Japanese economy is better than most, but the price of the reconstruction was huge. The earthquake caused US$99.3 billion of damage and $120 billion of reconstruction. Although jobs were created during the reconstruction, it would take many years for the people to return to their normal lives. Today, Kobe is still recovering. Housing remains a big problem. After the earthquake 300 000 people were homeless. A large number of the people affected were elderly.
Better communication and a better preparedness system are important things the Japanese government should use in the future. People didn’t know what to do. Many were seen running outside buildings and were hit by falling bricks. Teaching kids in school would be a start. The official response was slow and that’s not acceptable. Three days after the earthquake, the city still had no electricity. Information about the city’s geological background should be easy available for everyone. I think these things could help to reduce the loss of lives in the future.