Great Hanshin / Kobe earthquake In the early of January 17th in 1995 at 5:46pm, while many were still sleeping peacefully, the destructive Great Hanshin earthquake, which measured 7. 2 on the Richter scale, struck the Japanese city of Kobe. Kobe has a population of 1. 5 million people and is a major port for importing and exporting goods for Japan, situated south of the main island, Honshu, on a narrow strip of land between the ocean and high mountain ranges, it lies above the junction of the Philippine and Eurasian plates.
Kobe has rarely been affected by major earthquakes, only small tremors occasionally, but this earthquake that lasted for a whole 20 seconds, was the biggest to hit japan in 47 years. Japan is situated on the margin of the Eurasian plated, where the Philippine sea plate is being subducted below the Eurasian plate, resulting in Japan having greater than average seismic and volcanic activity. Immediately south of Osaka bay is a fault called the median tectonic line (MTL) and it was sudden movement along this fault that triggered the earthquake that hit Kobe.
The movement was caused by the friction from the Eurasian and Philippine plates converging. The earthquake had a shallow focus, only 16 km below the surface, which had caused it to become so destructive. Kobe was largely affected, as the epicentre was only 30 km from the city centre. Japan is said to be the most earthquake prone country but this was proved otherwise in the Kobe earthquake. The 20 second earthquake caused the ground to move up to 50 centimetres horizontally and up to 1 meter vertically.
The primary effects from the seismic waves shaking the crust were severe causing the collapse of buildings, bridges and roads. With a total of 75 000 buildings damaged or destroyed and all major road and rail way links damaged all communications from the east and west of japan were cut off. The after shocks from the earthquake caused the problems to become worse with a total of 5000 people dead, 300 000 homeless and 68 children orphaned. The earthquake also triggered a number of fires, congestion, chaos and business closures.
Because of the severity of the earthquake it made it extremely difficult for emergency services to reach the worst affected parts of the city. All gas, water and telecommunications were cut off making it extremely hard for emergency crews to communicate and for fire fighters to put out the fires across the city, leaving the fire fighters to watch helplessly as Kobe burned. The earthquake caused a total of 100 billion dollars of damage with economic damage taking up 100 million dollars.
Many typical Japanese insurance policies did not cover earthquakes, causing many families to loose everything. In the first few days food, blankets, medical supplies and clean water were of short supplies and the winter weather made it worse with temperatures dropping to -2. Because of the severity of the earthquake and the shortage in supplies, authorities found the disaster difficult to cope with and the special defence forces were unable to reach the site until 4 hours after the earthquake with the original team only consisting of 170 troops.
Even though the earthquake had such a large impact on all aspects of japan at the time it did not take them all to recover and get back on track with the short-term relief and rescue measures put in place they were able to get water, electricity, gas and telephone services were fully working by July and by august the railways were back in service. The port was rebuilt and the import volumes recovered fully within a year and the exports were nearly back to normal. The earthquake also caused a major decline in Japanese Stock market which then caused a domino effect on the banks but despite this damage the local economy recovered quickly.