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Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2005

Kobe remembers earthquake with candlelight vigil


Staff writer

KOBE -- This city on Monday morning marked the 10th anniversary of the January 1995 earthquake that resulted in the loss of 6,433 lives, with ceremonies paying tribute to reconstruction efforts and offering condolences and promises of further assistance to survivors of national and international disasters.

But with concerns that many elderly survivors of the Great Hanshin Earthquake living alone are still in need of care, as well as a local economy that continues to stagnate, few in Kobe were in a mood to say their city has recovered completely.

The ceremonies officially began at 5.46 a.m., the exact time the quake hit Jan. 17, 1995, with a candlelight vigil in central Kobe.

Amid cold rain, more than 5,000 participants in a memorial service at Higashi Park lit about 6,500 candles forming a large "1-17," and observed a moment of silence.

The candles represented the 6,433 lives lost due to the magnitude 7.3 temblor and the more than 100 people who died later from indirect causes.

Officials said the weather kept the number of participants in the morning ceremony down, but the sun had broken through by 11 a.m., creating a series of rainbows.

Various official and unofficial memorial ceremonies took place in Kobe, on Awaji Island, where the quake was centered, and in towns and villages throughout Hyogo Prefecture.

The main event took place in central Kobe, where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko presided over a formal ceremony. The Emperor spoke just after noon, following a moment of silence.

He said he hopes the memories of the devastating quake are kept alive and the people of Hyogo Prefecture will continue to convey their experiences and achievements to the rest of the world to help build safer societies that can protect people from natural hazards.

He said he feels reassured that volunteer activities spurred by the quake recovery process spread beyond Hyogo Prefecture and surrounding regions, apparently referring to moves by local residents to rush to places hit by disasters in Japan and abroad.

Kobe's physical reconstruction has largely been completed and the population as of November stood at 1.52 million, just over the number in Kobe prior to the quake.

In Nagata Ward, one of the areas hit hardest by the quake, though, there are still many vacant lots where buildings that were destroyed by the quake or subsequent fires once stood. The population there is only about 80 percent of what it was prior to the quake.

"Postquake reconstruction efforts focused primarily on the more upscale eastern Kobe districts and Hyogo Prefecture. Nagata remained pretty much an afterthought for a long time," said Junichi Mizuoka, a Nagata resident who runs a small metalworks shop.



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