Civic groups, kin mark anniversary of Kobe earthquake

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

People gathered in the rain early Wednesday to mark the 12th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which resulted in the loss of more than 6,400 lives in Kobe and surrounding areas.

Relatives of the victims lit candles and prayed for the dead in silence at 5:46 a.m., the time when the temblor hit the heavily populated area on Jan. 17, 1995.

The magnitude 7.3 quake was centered on Awaji Island in the Seto Inland Sea off Hyogo Prefecture, but the heaviest toll was in Kobe.

The death toll reached 6,434 and around 44,000 people were injured. The quake and subsequent unextinguishable fires destroyed 105,000 homes and left more than half a million others damaged.

On Wednesday, memorial events were held in Kobe and other areas to remember the victims of the most devastating natural calamity in postwar Japan and to raise awareness of disaster-preparation steps.

Civic groups and relatives of those who died gathered at Higashi Yuenchi Park in Chuo Ward, where bamboo lanterns for the victims were laid out in a pattern spelling “1.17” to mark the date of the disaster.

Tomoko Kobayashi, 40, a housewife from Kobe’s Nada Ward who lost her father, Katsuya Matsumura, 60, in the quake, gave a speech on behalf of other families who lost loved ones in the disaster.

She addressed part of the speech to her 10-year-old son.

“You are a reincarnation of your grandpa and have given the joy of life to your mother,” Kobayashi said. She also urged children who did not experience the earthquake to cherish their lives.

In a shopping street in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, about 30 shop owners and other residents offered silent prayers in front of a big clock that was stopped by the quake. The clock has been preserved, its hands frozen in the same position, as a reminder of the disaster.

About 130 people prayed for the souls and sang at Hokudan Earthquake Memorial Park on Awaji Island.

The epicenter of the 7.3 magnitude quake was in the northern part of the island.

The Hyogo Prefectural Government organized a meeting at a disaster-preparedness center in Chuo Ward where public housing for people who lost their homes in the quake is located.

“The significance of today, Jan. 17, lies in us renewing the pledge” to remember the experiences of and lessons from the disaster, Gov. Toshizo Ido said at the meeting.

The prefecture is planning evacuation and firefighting drills as well as a memorial walk along routes used for evacuation and delivery of relief materials.