Thu, Dec 28, 2000 - Page 11 News List

What has Japan done since the Kobe earthquake?

Many are surprised by how quickly the city has rebuilt itself after being hit by a massive earthquake in 1995. Survivors are working to preserve a record of the incident and scientists hope new technology will prevent any future quakes from having such a devastating effect

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER IN HYOGO , JAPAN

Nojima Fault Preservation Museum.

PHOTO: CHIU YU-TZU, TAIPEI TIMES

Residents of Kobe, Japan, have been sending out "Kobe 2001 -- Thanks and Welcome" postcards to invite people from around the world to this reborn city, nearly five years after it was seriously damaged by a devastating earthquake in January 1995.

At Phoenix Plaza (不死鳥會館), a museum near Kobe train station, countless photographs show the damage inflicted by the earthquake. The plaza, housing a long-term exhibition about the Kobe earthquake, which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, serves as a reminder of the awesome power of nature.

The Kobe earthquake claimed the lives of at least 6,400 people from Kobe City and the surrounding region. Tens of thousands lost their homes. The natural disaster caused losses to the Japanese economy estimated to exceed US$100 billion.

Almost six years after the disaster, however, the image of the devastated Kobe presented in the exhibition is totally different from the reality outside the museum. The modern buildings and quick tempo of city life cause visitors to marvel that post-disaster reconstruction has been carried out so quickly and effectively.

Volunteers at Phoenix Plaza are helping residents to draw postcards or write invitation cards. The festival, called "Kobe 21st Century Restoration Commemorative Project," is scheduled to start on Jan. 17, exactly six years after the earthquake.

The volunteers said that it was time for the residents of Kobe to show their appreciation to people everywhere who assisted them after the earthquake.

Museum on Awaji Island

A joyful rebirth seems to have occurred after a persistent fight against despair. The earthquake, nevertheless, remains a poignant memory for most of those who experienced it.

Death and destruction were not the only legacies of what has become known as the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Disaster (阪神淡路大震災). It also taught its terrorized survivors how difficult, and yet how crucial, it is to learn to live with the forces of nature, which are capable of releasing dreadful energy without notice.

Before the earthquake, which jolted the Kinki (近畿) area of Japan, the Japanese people did not know that part of the Nojima Fault (野島斷層) lay deep underground in Hokudan-cho (北淡町) on Awaji Island (淡路島).

During the quake, officially known as the Southern Hyogo earthquake (兵庫縣南部地震), a 10km-long hidden stretch of the Nojima Fault was discovered.

In order to preserve the dramatic changes to the topography on Awaji Island caused by the tremor, the Japanese transformed the site, located in the Hokudan-cho earthquake Memorial Park, into the Nojima Fault Preservation Museum.

About 140m of the newly exposed fault line have been preserved and are displayed at the museum's site. The museum has been designated a state-owned property.

"We built the museum as a reminder, which would be helpful to the fields of both scientific research and disaster prevention work. So far, the number of visitors has exceeded 4.6 million," said Hatsuo Hirata (平田一男), director of the museum.

Visitors can also see explanatory displays, including large panels, models and a miniature theater.

"Japanese scientists have known that the topography of the center of the Kinki area is complex. It includes low lying areas such as Lake Bewa, Osaka Bay and the Kyoto and Nara basins, as well as high mountains such as the Hira, Ikoma and Rokko ranges," said Tomoko Kawayoshi (川吉知子), an interpreter for the museum.

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