Remembering Lessons on the 27th Anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake

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27 years have passed since the great Hanshin earthquake of January 17, 1995, a disaster that killed more than 6,000 people.

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Commemorating Kobe, site of the great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake, 27 years later.

The recurring waves of COVID-19 infections have meant that commemorative events have to be canceled or scaled back again this year. But now, more than a quarter century later, making sure the lessons of the disaster are shared is more important than ever.

Shortly before this anniversary, between midnight January 15 and the early hours of January 16, 2022, a tsunami caused by the massive eruption of an underwater volcano off the coast of Tonga in the South Pacific reached as far as the Pacific coast of Japan.

It is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of not fading the memories of disasters. There must be a commitment to passing the lessons of the great earthquake on to future generations in order to build a disaster-resistant nation.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake was the largest urban earthquake to hit Japan since World War II. It violently exposed the vulnerabilities of Japanese cities – the Hanshin Expressway collapsed and the city of Kobe was engulfed in flames, although the disaster struck at 5:46 a.m. early in the morning.

Together they are a poignant reminder of the need for disaster preparedness, the destructive power of fires caused by restoring power after a power outage, and the importance of securely securing furniture.

Japan is an earthquake-prone country. In 2011, nearly 20,000 people were killed or disappeared in the Great East Japan Earthquake. And since then there have been a series of earthquakes.

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Earthquake hazard map of Japan

There are reports that a megaquake could occur in the Nankai Trough in the 2030s. In addition, experts say that there is a 70% chance that an earthquake will occur just below the Tokyo metropolitan area in the next 30 years. The occurrence of either would be a national crisis.

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Repeated earthquakes have taught Japan the importance of preparedness. In 1995, the great Hanshin earthquake awakened the spirit of volunteerism in Japan. The necessary know-how was disseminated across the country and practical disaster drills were held in many regions.

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It’s hard to predict when the next earthquake will strike, but there’s no question that Japan will be hit by another one.

This year’s anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake on January 17 should be a day to commemorate the victims of the disaster ー and also a day to reassess whether Japan is prepared for the next earthquake.

Knowing the destructive power of water

Coincidentally, just before dawn on January 16 this year, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning for the Amami and Tokara Islands in Kagoshima and Iwate prefectures, and a tsunami warning for the entire Pacific coast from Hokkaido to Okinawa.

Evacuation orders have been issued to about 229,000 people in eight prefectures across Japan. Although the tide rose just over a meter at its highest point, many fishing boats anchored in the ports of Kochi and Tokushima prefectures capsized, sank or became a chilling reminder of the destructive power of the water.

Evacuation centers were set up relatively quickly in Iwate Prefecture, and the emergency response radio and warning sirens prompted many residents to wrap up in warm clothing and go to higher ground in the extreme cold. The region was particularly hard hit by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake.

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Consequences of a tsunami in Japan

They knew that the only way to escape a tsunami was to get away from shore and rivers and evacuate to higher ground or the top floors of sturdy buildings. They did not let the experience of the catastrophe go to waste. It’s a lesson everyone should learn.

In Amami Oshima, on the other hand, people evacuated in their cars, causing traffic jams that temporarily brought the coast road to a complete standstill. Although the people of Amami Oshima are familiar with typhoon disaster prevention, the great eastern Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami that swept away many cars had no roots in their memories.

Earthquakes and tsunamis can occur anywhere in the Japanese archipelago, meaning there must be no regional disparity in preparedness and knowledge of disaster prevention and evacuation.

After the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning, the government set up a liaison office within the crisis management center in the prime minister’s office.

But Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was nowhere to be seen. Since the evacuation order was issued for such a wide area of ​​Japan, it would have been better for the prime minister to make a statement or appeal to the people.

Prevent the memories from fading

Ahead of this year’s tsunami warning on the evening of Jan. 16, a memorial to commemorate the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake was held at Kobe East Park in Kobe’s Chuo District. Lanterns aligned to form the “Forgotten” sign were lit for 12 hours until the earthquake struck.

At 5:46 a.m. the next morning, citizens observed a minute’s silence.

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A minute’s silence to mark the anniversary of the Kobe earthquake.

The organizing committee of the event explained that the character “forgotten” was chosen because “the earthquake must not be forgotten” and also to reflect the desire of the bereaved to want to forget. Even after 27 years, her emotional wounds remain unhealed.

Need to remember but want to forget. Although the two seem contradictory, Japan needs both feelings to move into the future.

No matter how tragic an event is, it gradually fades from our memories. Disaster anniversaries are important days for us to face the sealed memories so the life-saving lessons continue to be remembered.

These anniversaries include January 17, the day of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, March 11, the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake nearly 11 years ago, and August 15, the end of World War II.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese with this link.)

Author: Editor, The Sankei Shimbun

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