Fifteen years have passed since the Great Hanshin Earthquake hit Kobe and adjacent areas on Jan. 17, 1995. The magnitude-7.3 quake originated in the northern part of Awaji Island. In Kobe, the seismic intensity measured seven on the Japanese scale, the highest level. The quake took the lives of more than 6,400 people and seriously injured more than 10,000 others. Nearly 250,000 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. After the temblor passed, Kobe was full of the rubble of collapsed buildings, with more threatening to topple.

The city today has recovered well from the devastation, with many impressive high-rise buildings. But the tragedy of 15 years ago should not be dismissed as ancient history. Its memory should be handed from generation to generation. Many people are still suffering its effects, physical, psychological and economic.

More than 80 percent of the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake were crushed to death by collapsed buildings or fallen furniture. As of 2009, 67 percent of school buildings in Japan — which can serve as shelters in a time of disaster — were quake-proof. But the central and local governments should act to quake-proof more buildings, including private residences. A 2003 government estimate showed that a quarter of the nation’s houses were not quake-proof. On an individual level, people should securely fasten their furniture. They should also store emergency food and water and buy an emergency-survival supply kit.

It is important that each citizen be aware of what to do in case of an earthquake. People should be educated about how to behave, and how to help oneself and others. Earthquakes cannot be prevented, and experience has shown that powerful quakes can occur even where there is no active fault. But if a large quake hits, the human bonds in communities can play an important role in overcoming the physical and psychological damage. Local governments should make serious efforts to develop human networks capable of helping communities cope with a disaster.

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