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With prayers for victims and a renewed determination to pass down memories and lessons, Kobe, capital of Hyogo Prefecture, and the surrounding area on Sunday marked the 26th anniversary of the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake, which left more than 6,400 people dead.

With Hyogo under the central government’s coronavirus state of emergency, memorial ceremonies were scaled down.

Families of those killed in the quake and other people gathered at a park in central Kobe. With lanterns made of bamboo and paper, they offered silent prayers at 5:46 a.m., the exact time the magnitude 7.3 disaster jolted the port city on Jan. 17, 1995. The event brought together about 2,500 people by 7 a.m.

In a ceremony organized by the Kobe city government, Midori Kaga, a 65-year-old classical Japanese dance master, attended as a representative of victims’ families.

She stopped short of reading out a memorial message for her daughter who died at age 6, as part of curbs to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. Her message was instead posted on the website of the city government.

“I prayed for the repose of my daughter’s soul,” Kaga told reporters after the ceremony. “I asked her to watch over us in this difficult time caused by the coronavirus.”

Many events were scaled down due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in Japan. The Hyogo Prefectural Government canceled an event to walk an emergency evacuation route as well as a disaster drill, while the number of participants at an event organized by a civic group stood at some 70% of the previous year.

Exactly 26 years ago, Kobe and its surrounding areas were hit hard by the powerful earthquake that claimed 6,434 lives and injured 43,792 people. In the hardest-hit areas, the quake registered a 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, the first time a quake had done so.

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