• Kyodo

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Residents of Kobe and surrounding areas offered prayers for the 6,433 victims of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake on Friday, the eighth anniversary of the disaster.

The Kobe Municipal Government and citizens’ groups held a memorial event at a Chuo Ward park and lit 6,433 candles in remembrance of the victims at the time the magnitude 7.3 quake devastated Hyogo Prefecture and other areas Jan. 17, 1995.

“Completing full reconstruction from the disaster as soon as possible is the only way to serve the victims,” Kobe Mayor Tatsuo Yada said.

In the prefectural office, Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido and other local officials offered silent prayers for the victims.

They rang a bell 88 times, once for each Hyogo Prefecture municipality. Ido then instructed prefectural officials to renew their resolve to work to reduce the impact of future disasters.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda expressed his condolences to the victims of the quake.

“It has been eight years. I would like to express my renewed condolences over the more than 6,400 precious lives that were lost,” he said. “But during that time, (the quake-hit areas) have been largely reconstructed, thanks to the efforts of local residents and municipalities.”

Fukuda added that the government will continue efforts to protect Japan from natural disasters and prevent similar tragedies.

Various events commemorating the quake were held in Kobe and elsewhere.

About 800 people set out on a memorial walk early in the morning from two starting points in Nagata Ward and at City Hall in Nishinomiya. They followed a path that was used to transport emergency aid supplies as well as to evacuate survivors.

The memorial walk concluded at the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution in Chuo Ward. A memorial ceremony organized by the prefectural government was held there at noon, and a declaration of the lessons learned from the quake was read out.

Yoshitada Konoike, state minister in charge of disaster prevention, attended the ceremony. But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and members of the Imperial family skipped the event. They were also absent last year.

Itsuka Kato, 23, one of two representatives of the quake survivors, was 15 when she lost her younger sister, Haruka, 11, in Higashi-Nada Ward in the quake.

“Some people lost their parents and some their children, but tenderness, compassion and companions remained for us. To live with that in mind is the only thing we can do,” Kato said.

“It appears that Kobe has once again become a lively city,” she said. “But there are many people whose emotional wounds have not healed.”

Katsushi Yonezu, 42, the other representative and a resident of the city of Ashiya, lost his 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

“I believe it is the survivors’ role to aim for a society in which human life is respected,” Yonezu said.

In 2001, the population of 20 prefectural municipalities that were hardest hit by the quake recovered to and exceeded their levels prior to the quake.

The estimated population of Kobe had recovered to 99.4 percent of the level before the quake as of Jan. 1 this year. But the population of Nagata Ward, one of the most severely affected areas, remained at 80.7 percent of eight years ago.

Two disaster-prevention drills were conducted Friday, in Osaka and Shizuoka prefectures, for quakes that seismologists say could strike Japan early this century.

About 8,700 people took part in the drills.

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