Lessons of Kobe need to be heeded in Tokyo
"Soshite Kobe" (And Kobe), a pop song that made it high up in the hit charts 35 years ago, begins: "Kobe, what good will it be to cry?" The Kobe Port neighborhood, where "ship's lights are reflected in the bay's murky water" in the song, is now undergoing a hotel construction boom. The tourist industry is said to be poised to aggressively promote Kobe as "a safe, new city that has achieved reconstruction."
The Great Hanshin Earthquake struck on Jan. 17 in 1995, killing more than 6,400 people. The city is focusing on how best to pass on to posterity the mourning of victims and lessons learned from the disaster. With the passage of 13 years, Kobe's initial struggle for reconstruction has now become more of a "struggle to keep the memories alive."
Kobe citizens, who are being trained as volunteer citizen lifesavers, are growing steadily in number. Some are said to have become trainers as a way to show their gratitude to strangers who had saved their lives in the immediate aftermath of the quake. This awareness for disaster-preparedness, now taking firm root in the community, is something of great value that has been learned from the quake.
Together with the Great Kanto Earthquake, which hit on Sept. 1, 1923, killing more than 100,000 people, the Great Hanshin Earthquake serves as a reminder of the need for constant quake preparedness.
Tokyo is speeding up its own earthquake preparedness. According to the Central Disaster Management Council, a magnitude 7 temblor striking directly under the Tokyo metropolitan area would leave 6.5 million people stranded as transportation systems broke down. What would happen if all these people started heading home on foot at the same time?
The Tokyo Marathon of last February amply demonstrated how unexpectedly long it takes for a huge crowd to get moving all at once. There were 30,000 people running in this marathon, and it took 20 minutes for the entire throng to cross the starting line, even though this was on a wide, eight-lane road.
Should 6.5 million people spill out onto the streets of Tokyo en masse, fire engines and ambulances will obviously remain stuck in the traffic of teeming humanity while fire and quake damage spread. After the Great Hanshin Earthquake, many drills were held to train people for returning home on foot.
Today, however, emergency management experts recommend that everyone should stay put in a safe place and not try to rush home.
Means of disaster-preparedness are being reviewed constantly. This is one effect of the two reminders in January and September each year.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 17(IHT/Asahi: January 18,2008)