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Japan: Remembering the Great Hanshin Earthquake

As images of the devastation in Haiti circle the globe, people in another earthquake-prone part of the world are today remembering an earthquake which wreaked havoc in their own country 15 years ago to the day. On January 17, 1995, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Kobe and surrounding areas, killing over 6400 people and causing an estimated ten trillion yen in damage. 15 years after Japan's Great Hanshin Earthquake, we today give voice to those who experienced the disaster.

Hanshin Earthquake Memorial. By Flickr user PapiGiulio

Hanshin Earthquake Memorial. By Flickr user PapiGiulio

Blogger Bokuwakuma describes what they saw:

当時、「ぼくはくま♪」は団地の5階に住んでいました
のでその揺れ方は大阪でも半端じゃなかったですよ。
余震も何日か続いていたことを覚えてます。
しかしその日は会社の仲間でやっていたサッカーの
朝練習日だったので集合場所の公園にとりあえず行った
誰も来ていないだろうなって思ってたら10人程度集まっていました。
まだテレビではあんな神戸が悲惨な状況になっているとは
全く知らずのんびりサッカーの練習とは・・・・
そして「ぼくはくま♪」の人生でもターニングポイントとなった
初のボランティアの経験

At the time, I was living on the 5th floor of a housing complex, and I could feel violent oscillations even from where I was in Osaka. I remember that the aftershocks continued for a few days. On that exact day, my colleagues and I had decided to play soccer in the morning, and the first thing I did was to go to the park where we were supposed to meet. Only 10 people came, and I wondered why other people weren't showing up. We kept on playing anyway, because we didn't know anything of the tragedy that was happening in Kobe, as was later shown on TV…

That was a turning point in my life. My first experience as a volunteer.

Blogger Onezero was also a witness:

私も震災直後、弁当と水筒を持ち、親族の家に行きましたが、電車は途中まで、道路はビルや家の倒壊でふさがれていて、歩いて10時間かかって現場に着きました。親族の家は全壊していて、みなさん、運よく助かり遠い親戚の家に避難したあとでした。近くに傾いた10階建てのマンションの入り口で老人夫婦が配られた水を上に運ぶのに難儀していましたので、運んであげました。

Soon after the earthquake hit I took my lunch box and water bottle and went to my relatives’ house, but the streets were blocked because buildings and houses had collapsed. The train stopped at a certain point and I arrived only after 10 hours walking.

My relatives’ house was completely destroyed, but luckily, everybody had already found shelter in the homes of other relatives.

I remember there were a couple of old people at the entrance of a 10-floor building. They were finding it hard to bring the water upstairs so I helped them.

「こんな傾いたマンションに住んでいるんですか?」と聞くと、「行くところがないんです」と哀しそうに言いました。
途中で見た光景は一生忘れないでしょう。いずれの家も、まともに建っている家などないのですから。

“Are you living in this building? It looks like it's going to fall over!” I said. “We don't have anywhere else to go!” they said, with sadness in their voices.

I cannot forget the spectacle I saw that day. There were no houses left intact.

Great Hanshin Earthquake. By Flickr user mah_japan

Great Hanshin Earthquake. By Flickr user mah_japan

Blogger Sakanayaraku writes of their experience:

当時 神戸のホテルに勤めていて震災を体験した一人なので今回は当時の様子を書きたいと思います。
あの日は自宅で寝てたら突然凄い地響きがして、体が宙に浮いた後、ものすごい横揺れ。
どこかに隠れるなんて考えてる間もないほど揺れの大きさに恐怖でパニックになりました。
幸いにも怪我もなく、建物も無事でしたがしばらく大きな余震が続き生きた心地がしませんでした。
自分が住んでた場所はあまり被害がなく、しばらくして仕事場のある三ノ宮に車で向かいましたが、崩れ落ちたビルに潰れた家そして寒い中パジャマ姿で道端で座りこんでる人々

As someone who experienced the earthquake myself, working as an employee at a hotel in Kobe, I'd like to tell you a bit about what the situation was like at that time.

When the earthquake hit, I was at home sleeping, and suddenly the ground started to shake violently. My body was yanked around, and I started getting pulled from side to side. The tremors were so strong that I completely panicked, and didn't even have time to think of a place to hide.

Fortunately I made it out alive and the building never collapsed, but at the time I really didn't think I would survive the violent aftershocks.

The houses in the area where I lived were not damaged, so after a while I got in my car and drove to Sannomiya, the district where I worked. But all I could see were collapsed buildings and houses, and people sitting by the roadside in the cold wearing only their pajamas.

[…]

仕事場のホテルも幸いな事に無事 ですが電気、ガス、水道全てストップしばらく営業出来ない状態になり、地震の後すぐに沖縄に戻る事にしました空港に向かう車の窓から 壊れた街並みを見て凄く寂しい気持ちになった事を今でも思い出します。
あれから15年、すごい早さで復興し神戸の街もすっかり変わったそうでいつか変わった神戸の街を見てみたいもんです。

The hotel where I worked was intact but there was no electricity, gas or water, and since it was going to be out of service for a while I decided to go back to Okinawa. On the way back to the airport, from the car window, I saw a city in ruins, and I can still today remember the horrible sadness I felt.

15 years have passed, and with surprising speed the city of Kobe has been rebuilt. They say it's changed a lot. One day I'd really like to see what it's like today.

Another blogger published pictures of Kobe right after the first shocks of the earthquake. Flickr user mah_japan has also posted a set of photos, see Great Hanshin Earthquake (1995/01).

Finally, while it may not seem that way from their government's actions, many Japanese today are taking the opportunity on this day of remembrance for those who died in Kobe to address words of solidarity to the people of Haiti.

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