KOBE — Some 30 people who were forced to leave Kobe and other parts of Hyogo Prefecture after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake gathered here Thursday for the first time to share their experiences during and after the temblor.

The gathering was organized by Machizukuri Shien Kyokai (the Association to Support the Creation of Towns and Communities), an Osaka-based nonprofit group that has been supporting people unable to return to their homes after the quake, which hit Kobe and its neighboring areas Jan. 17, 1995.

Mitsuko Nakanishi, secretary general of the NPO also known as Flexlife, said with many displaced survivors growing old, it is important to bolster ties between them.

“We hope this gathering will serve as an opportunity to keep in touch with each other in the future,” Nakanishi told participants at the gathering.

Most of those who attended still live in the Kansai area, although some had traveled from Okayama and Kagawa prefectures.

Some participants said they were heartened to meet people in a similar situation and would like to attend more gatherings of this kind.

Some voiced eagerness to return to the communities in which they had lived before the disaster, while others said they have settled into the communities into which they moved after the quake.

“I have been trying to return to Kobe by applying for public housing in the city, but still have not been successful,” said 71-year-old Shozo Matsumura, now a resident of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

Matsumura had lived in public housing in Kobe’s Chuo Ward before his house was destroyed by the quake.

Meanwhile, 66-year-old Shigeru Fujita, who lived in Kobe’s Nagata Ward before moving to Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, said that although he maintained a desire to return to Kobe for a few years, he feels he has now settled into his new home.

The views expressed at Thursday’s meeting support the findings of a survey conducted last month by the NPO and Kyodo News, in which displaced quake survivors were asked if they want to return to their old communities.

Some 35 percent of respondents said they still want to return to their communities, while 36 percent said they have abandoned their desire to return.

Some 21 percent said they do not want or feel the need to go back.

The questionnaires were mailed to 2,120 people. Of the 620 people who responded, 523 said they are still displaced, dispersed among 34 prefectures, while 97 said they have returned to their original communities. Almost 550 questionnaires came back unanswered due to address changes.

Some respondents blamed an inability to find affordable housing for not returning.

Some said private housing is too expensive to rent, while others said they have thus far been unsuccessful in the public housing lottery.

Of those who have abandoned the idea of returning, some said they have lost the energy to do so.

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