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EDITORIAL | 28 Years After the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, its Lesson is 'Helping One Another'

The earthquake paralyzed the city. In the aftermath, it is estimated that 70% of those rescued from the ruins were saved by family members or neighbors.

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It has been 28 years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of January 1995 took more than 6,000 lives. 

Some of the memorial events which had been canceled or scaled down due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis returned to their pre-pandemic scale for the first time in three years. With it, an estimated 50,000 people were expected to attend the "1.17 Festival" held at Higashi Yuenchi Park in Kobe City's Chuo Ward.

On the other hand, the number of schools and kindergartens in Hyogo Prefecture holding silent prayer services has decreased by 140 schools from 2022. Although time may have passed, January 17 remains a day to pray for the souls of the dead. 

But even as we mourn the victims, we must use this day to ensure that the lessons learned from that tragedy will be passed on to future generations.

The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake was a natural disaster of a scale that had long been forgotten by most people. With highways and railway station buildings collapsing and flames rising in locations throughout Kobe, the city of 1.5 million was paralyzed. 

It is estimated that 70% of those rescued from the ruins were not saved by firefighters, police or Self-Defense Force personnel. Instead, they were saved by family members and neighbors.

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The words "1995 1.17" are visible in Higashi Yuenchi Park at 5:33 pm on January 17, the 28th anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awajima Earthquake. (© Sankei by Takanobu Sawano)

Living With Earthquake Risks

There is no denying that the initial response by the central government and local authorities was too slow. One lesson we need to take from this experience is that in the immediate aftermath of a large-scale disaster "fire trucks, ambulances and rescue teams may not arrive." Residents must therefore prepare for worst-case scenarios, too.

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The 28th anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awajima Earthquake is observed in Kobe. (© Sankei by Tomoichiro Takekawa)

Unfortunately, Japan is an earthquake-prone land. Earthquakes centered directly under a given location (epicentral earthquakes) may occur anywhere throughout the Japanese archipelago. 

Furthermore, seismologists warn that a mega-earthquake is expected for the Nankai Trough during the 2030s. Meanwhile, there is a 70% probability of a major earthquake directly under the Tokyo metropolitan area within the next three decades.

Ever since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, every time there is a major natural disaster we have learned anew the importance of being "prepared." For example, we were struck by these lessons in the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, the Kumamoto Earthquake of 2016 and the torrential rains that struck Western Japan in 2018.

The Importance of Being Prepared

But what is being prepared for disaster? It means helping ourselves by taking steps to prevent furniture in our homes from toppling over or items falling. Moreover, it means familiarizing ourselves with hazard maps and otherwise getting ready. Such measures have become familiar and natural in recent years. 

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Families observe the 28th anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awajima Earthquake. (© Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

However, what about mutual assistance in local communities? Ever since the start of the prolonged COVID-19 crisis people have been avoiding contact with others and unnecessarily going out of our homes. 

Nevertheless, do you know what kind of people live in your neighborhood? Moreover, can you count on them in an emergency? Would you need help? Or could you help someone else? Are you confident in your grasp of what might need to be done? 

Self-help is not very effective if your only concern is to save yourself. Mutual assistance - helping others - is important. 

Naturally, the foundation of mutual assistance is based on strong connections. It might be the family bonds among parents and children that make them ready to protect each other. Or, when people are determined to help those important to them, it might include defending their community. These feelings should be encouraged and spread.

We must keep the memories of and lessons learned from the earthquake from fading away and link them to the future. 

That is the responsibility not only of residents of the affected areas, but also of everyone living today.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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