Vows, flowers mark second anniversary of Hanshin earthquake

KOBE — Marking the second anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, local residents offered prayers Jan. 17 to commemorate the victims of the disaster and promised to rebuild better communities.On Jan. 17, 1995, the quake, which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, killed more than 6,400 people and destroyed about 140,000 structures in 10 cities across Hyogo Prefecture. The quake struck at 5:46 a.m. Friday, and about 100 residents participating in a memorial Mass at the Takatori Catholic Church in Nagata Ward offered a minute-long silent prayer.Attending the Mass, held in a paper-domed meeting hall in the churchyard, Katsumi Kawafuku, director of Nagata Ward’s Kobe Municipal Welfare Center, said he only feels emptiness when he thinks about when the area will be fully reconstructed. “Looking at vacant lots, I don’t feel that two years have passed,” said 70-year-old Kawafuku. “But I have found that people are finally starting to talk and smile more.”Yuki Yoshimoto, 19, said she attended the service to remember the quake. “Our family escaped with only slight damage from the quake, so I’m afraid that I’m forgetting what happened here two years ago,” she said.Paulo Succu, an Italian priest at the church, said reconstructing the district will be a long-term effort. “To build a town, we have to think about housing facilities and the living environment as well as how we can form a comfortable community,” he said. “We should continue the strong relationships among residents that we have been building since the quake.”About 70,000 residents from nearly 40,000 households are still living in temporary public housing units or taking shelter in parks and public facilities, and 55,000 residents have moved away from Hyogo Prefecture. Only about 10,000 households have left public housing units to move into other housing in the area. Construction of structures to house between 80,000 and 90,000 people had started by November, including public apartments for 38,600 households built by local governments. Ha Thi Thanh Nga, 34, a Vietnamese woman from Suma Ward, said that when she opened the door of her house Friday morning she recalled the disaster she experienced two years ago. “I’m very lucky because I’m alive,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of difficulties in the past two years, but for some residents, housing and employment problems have been more complicated and I feel sorry for them.” Although volunteers continue to aid those in need, their numbers are diminishing.