Monday, Jan. 17, 2000
Staff writers KOBE -- While reconstruction is largely complete, victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake remain concerned about the future, officials announced Monday at a ceremony to mark the fifth anniversary of the disaster. The earthquake, which struck on January 17, 1995, killed more than 6,400 people and left tens of thousands homeless here and in surrounding areas in Japan's worst postwar natural disaster. The Crown Prince, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and other dignitaries were on hand at the Hyogo Prefecture office to pay their respects, offering words of condolence in a late-morning ceremony attended by nearly 500 people. "I feel very deeply for those who suffered in the quake and for the bereaved families. I came to Kobe five years ago, after the quake," the Crown Prince said of his February and March 1995 visits. "Much has changed, and the people of Kobe have worked together to rebuild." Obuchi noted that the city's infrastructure has largely been rebuilt. "At one time, nearly 48,000 households were living in temporary shelters. But the last one closed earlier this month," the prime minister said. He noted, however, that many people have not fully recovered their lifestyles and that the local economy is still suffering. Both the Crown Prince and prime minister praised the volunteers who aided survivors of last year's earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan. Obuchi noted that with the establishment of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Center in Kobe this year, the city can offer assistance and information to the rest of Japan and the world on disaster response. Following the official speeches, 36 people chosen to represent the victims laid flowers in front of a cenotaph as an oboe and piano played softly in the background. With the closing of the last temporary shelter, Hyogo officials said this year's memorial ceremony will likely be the last. They emphasized that it is now time to concentrate on the future. At a separate memorial service hosted by the Kobe Municipal Government at Kobe Port Island Hall in Chuo Ward, about 4,500 citizens offered a minute of silent prayer Monday morning. Mayor Kazutoshi Sasayama said Kobe will make every effort to create a city people want to live in and visit. "(After the quake,) we Kobe residents were encouraged by many volunteers who came from across the country and abroad, as well as the help by the central government and municipalities," Sasayama said. "We really thank them. "As five years have passed since the quake, the city of Kobe has made step-by-step progress in the reconstruction," he said. "By the end of last year, all people had moved out of temporary housing to real homes. But for the reconstruction of residents' lives, there is still a lot to do and we will keep joining hands together." On behalf of those who lost kin, quake survivor Fusae Tabuchi, 15, said in a speech that she learned in the last five years the importance of being positive. "In the quake, many people died. I think they hope we survivors will live our lives in a positive manner. They are watching us from heaven," said Tabuchi, whose older brother died in the quake at age 12. "On that morning, after a sudden and strong jolt, something heavy was on me and I could not move. I was scared because I could not understand what had happened and it was dark," she said. "Then somebody held my hand firmly. It was my brother. He was sleeping next to me and he also could not move, but I was comforted by the warmth of my brother's hand. "When we were rescued after several hours, he was unconscious, but his hand was warm as he was taken to the hospital," said Tabuchi, who learned of her brother's death the same evening. "I had wanted to be a schoolteacher. But since the death of my brother, who wanted to be a doctor, I intend to be a doctor for him," she said. Meanwhile in Tokyo, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukushiro Nukaga said Monday that the 5 trillion yen spent by the government to reconstruct the area has achieved results. "People who were compelled to live in the temporary dwellings (after losing their homes) have left. The measures to rehabilitate the area have shown good results thanks to the support of people throughout the country," Nukaga told reporters. He said the government will continue efforts to reconstruct the area and secure the safety of the residents.