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Kobe Earthquake

The Kobe Earthquake – an earthquake in an HIC (High Income Country)

Kobe is located in the south east of Japan, near a destructive plate margin. It is a megacity and has one of the largest container ports in the World.  Although further from a plate margin than most of the cities in Japan, Kobe is still found on a fault line. 


The earthquake that hit Kobe during the winter of 1995 measured 6.9 on the Richter scale. At this plate margin, the Pacific plate is being pushed under the Eurasian plate, stresses build up and when they are released the Earth shakes. This is known as an earthquake happening along a subduction zone. The focus was only 16km below the crust and this happened on the 17th Jan 1995 at 5.46am. 10 million people live in this area.

Damage in Kobe Earthquake
By 松岡明芳 (GFDL)

The effects of this earthquake were catastrophic for a HIC.  Despite some buildings having been made earthquake proof during recent years many of the older buildings simply toppled over or collapsed.  A lot of the traditional wooden buildings survived the earthquake but burnt down in fires caused by broken gas and electricity lines. Other effects included;
•  More than 5000 died in the quake
• 300,000 were made homeless
• More than 102,000 buildings were destroyed in Kobe, especially the older wooden buildings.
• Estimated cost to rebuild the basics = £100 billion.
• The worst affected area was in the central part of Kobe including the main docks and port area. This area is built on soft and easily moved rocks, especially the port itself which is built on reclaimed ground. Here the ground actually liquefied and acted like thick soup, allowing buildings to topple sideways.
• Emergency aid for the city needed to use damaged roads but many of them were destroyed during the earthquake.
• Raised motorways collapsed during the shaking.  Other roads were affected, limiting rescue attempts.
• Many small roads were closed by fallen debris from buildings, or cracks and bumps caused by the ground moving.
• The earthquake occurred in the morning when people were cooking breakfast, causing over 300 fires, which took over 2 days to put out.

Responses to the quake
Water, electricity, gas, telephone services were fully working by July 1995 and the railways were back in service by August 1995
A year after the earthquake, 80% of the port was working but the Hanshin Expressway was still closed.
By January 1999, 134,000 housing units had been constructed but some people still had to live in temporary accommodation.
New laws were passed to make buildings and transport structures even more earthquake proof.
More instruments were installed in the area to monitor earthquake movements.
Most new buildings and roads have, in the last 20 years, been designed to be earthquake proof, schools and factories have regular earthquake drills, etc. Despite this, many older buildings still collapsed or caught fire. This led to many blocked roads and massive problems of homelessness.
Electricity and water supplies were badly damaged over large areas. This meant no power for heating, lights, cooking, etc. Clean, fresh water was in short supply until April 1995. The government and city authorities were criticised for being slow to rescue people and for refusing offers of help from other countries.

Collapsed buildings in Kobe Earthquake

By 松岡明芳 (GFDL)

Preparation – A lot of the buildings in Kobe and Japan made after the 1960s are earthquake proof (necessary by law) with counterweights on the roofs and cross steel frames.  Many of the damaged buildings in Kobe were built before this period and were made of wood, which caught fire. People are educated on earthquake preparation in Japan.
Prediction – Japan has the world’s most comprehensive prediction programme with thousands of seismometers and monitoring stations in Japan designed to give warning.  Kobe hadn’t had an earthquake in 400years and had less prediction equipment than other areas of Japan.
Aid – The Japanese rejected international offers of aid and dealt with the earthquake itself.  All of the homeless people were dealt with reasonably quickly and the city recovered thanks to government money.

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