Astronaut kicks off earthquake symposium in Tokyo

With the second anniversary of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake approaching, an international earthquake symposium in Tokyo got under way Jan. 13 attended by several quake experts and volunteers.Apollo 13 skipper James A. Lovell Jr. opened the meeting with a speech that stressed the importance of leadership, communication and teamwork in handling a crisis. He spoke from experience, as he was leader of a three-man crew that managed to return to Earth after their spacecraft suffered a major malfunction on its way to the moon. The story of the ill-fated mission and the astronauts’ ingenious survival was dramatized in the recent movie “Apollo 13.”Another speaker at the symposium was Yasuhiro Miki, former senior editor of the Kobe Shimbun, which caters to Kobe and has extensively covered the disaster and its aftereffects. Speaking at one of the panel sessions, Miki said that although economic activity in the Hanshin region appears to have recovered to about 80 percent to 90 percent of its prequake level, internal damage and aftereffects from the temblor remain.Miki pointed out that about 70,000 people, or 38,000 households, are still living in temporary housing built by local governments, and that only 40 percent of the 137,000 homes destroyed by the quake have been rebuilt. “Don’t take it as someone else’s business,” Miki said, adding that the reconstruction process in Kobe could be applied in similar fashion to other disaster-stricken areas.While the central government has paid vast sums to rebuild such infrastructure as roads and railways, it has refused to help individuals rebuild homes. The government says that it would be unfair to rebuild private properties given the principle of equality in the entire nation, but Miki said he believes it would not be unfair because any region can be hit by a disaster.The symposium at Tokyo International Forum was attended by 1,452 people. Another session of the symposium is scheduled to take place at Kobe International Conference Hall on Jan. 16, along with a closing session in Tachikawa in western Tokyo on Jan. 17.