Why did so many people die in the Kobe Earthquake?
Kobe is a major city in central Japan, its population is 1,528,948. It is situated on a minor fault, the Najima fault line. It lies above a destructive plate margin, hence why Japan has so many volcanoes.
At 5.46pm, 17th January 1995 an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale and lasting for 30 seconds, struck Kobe. This colossus earthquake was caused by “The Philippines plate” and the “Pacific plate”, (Oceanic Crust) getting forced downwards when pressure was applied to it by the Eurasian plate (continental crust). The seismic waves caused by the plates rippled through the earth’s surface. As well as causing earthquakes these events can cause Volcanoes. The magma rises out of the earth and out of the cracks which have been formed.
Although this earthquake may seem big, it is still relatively small compared to the ones that the American people have to endure in San Francisco and California. These one’s reach 8-9 on the Richter scale! They are located on the “Ring of fire”, which also lies above a destructive plate margin.
As you may or may not know, Japan is basically an island made up of volcanoes sticking out of the ground. This means there is very little flat land other than at the base of the volcanoes. Due to this, it is very crowded and congested. Believe it or not the population
Of Japan is 124 million! That’s approximately twice as much as England! There are also approximately 310 people per square kilometer.
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Also, there are some human causes of the Kobe Earthquake. We all know that, this present day, Japan is the most technologically advanced country in the world. But that means they must have run millions of tests and tried out new experiments and procedures to get to where they are today. I have researched about this and found out that these tests and experiments occurred about a few years prior to the Kobe Earthquake. Some of these feats were: Injecting fluid into deep wells for waste disposal, filling reservoirs with water, and firing underground nuclear tests. These activities increased the strain on the rocks near the location of the “activity”, so that the rock can move and slide more easily. But on the other hand, whilst earthquakes caused by human behavior may be harmful, they can also provide useful information.
The Japanese built all their buildings upwards, due to lack of space. They were also designed to withstand strong winds and gales, which meant they were robust (they didn’t flex). But on the contrary those buildings were vulnerable to horizontal ground movement. So when the earthquake struck the buildings basically snapped in half. They had very strong and versatile foundations but these didn’t allow the building to move.
When the windows in the buildings collapse they send thousands of shards of razor sharp glass, shooting downwards onto the awaiting people below. These sharp pieces of glass were lethal enough to slice open someone like they were made of butter. Also when other buildings/objects broke they also sent projectiles flying outwards, the size of a large knives!
Seeing as the earthquake struck in the early hours of the morning, I assume that most people were unaware of disaster that was happening. They were all probably sleeping, so that is why there were so many casualties.
The death toll in Kobe was 5,500. As well as also leaving 40,000 injured, the earthquake caused other huge problems in Kobe. Nearly 200, 000 buildings collapsed. 1km of the elevated Hanshin Expressway got destroyed, blocking the roads and making it difficult to get around. As well as 130km of the bullet train route was destroyed, which prevented many people from escaping Kobe.
Gas, electricity, food and water supply was disrupted causing many people to start looting and breaking into to shops. 500m wall of fire raged for days as it engulfed the outer regions of the city destroying 7500 houses. Due this an estimated 230,000 people were left homeless, and they had to live in temporary shelters such as: Schools, gyms and open parks.
Dust filled the air making it very hard for people to breathe and to see as it blocked out the sun.
After the earthquake there were 716 aftershocks felt that lasted days after the main earthquake, 74 were strong enough to be felt by man! This left thousands of people fearing for their safety to returning to their homes.
The emergency services, strived, fought and battled to save as many people as they could. But unfortunately not all could be saved.
Mrs Endo was one of the unlucky ones. She lay trapped under the rubble of her home, dying of suffocation as her husband Mr Endo, went to visit their son in the new part of Kobe. Mr and Mrs Endo lived in the old part of Kobe, where mainly old people lived. The houses in this area were all made up from wood. Due to this, the quality of accommodation was poor; they had extremely weak foundations, and were very liable to any strong movement of any kind. Whereas the houses in the new district, were built on strong foundations. They also had had new advanced technology. The government didn’t do much to help the people who lived in the old district, because “hence” the name, everyone living there was old. Nevertheless in the New District, it was frankly the opposite, most residents living there were middle aged business men/women or young students.
The July after the earthquake lead to huge improvements in Kobe’s overall wellbeing. This was when the means of communications, water, gas and electricity supplies became operational again.
All the rail services were back to normal by August. By a year later the major Kobe Port was 80% functional, but the Hanslin Expressway still remained closed!
Big industries that were forced to close down, where re-opened again. (Mitsubishi and Panasonic).
The government in Japan decided to take action. They realized that if another earthquake strikes like the one in Kobe, then they need to be prepared. So they started developing stronger, sturdier buildings. Taller buildings had to be more flexible and have stronger steel frames. The smaller buildings needed to have concrete frames and reinforced bars to absorb shockwaves. No houses from then on were allowed to be made out of brick or clay, the new buildings all had to be made from solid rock, because water rises during an earthquake.
Scientists also increase the number of seismic instruments, to record the earth’s movement.
I conclude that the Japanese government as well as the people took a laid back attitude, to the natural disaster that they knew was coming. Someone should have stood up and say “We need to take action, now, before it gets too late!” But as we know, no one did pluck up the courage to stand up and speak up, and look what happened. The government had the money and the technology to build up their defenses in their country, so they didn’t succumb to natural disasters like the one addressed. Japan was the richest, and the most technologically advanced country in the world.
But on the contrary, Japanese scientists have since tried to improve prediction of quakes, but seismology is not always accurate and it is extremely difficult to predict when and where quakes will occur. So all in all, they’re too many explanations and excuses about why this happened. But we have to face it, and move on.
We will truly never know exactly what will happen to something before it is too late.
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This answer contains useful information about the Kobe earthquake, including its causes, impacts and the responses to it. It could be improved by being more focused on the question - why did so many people die? The author hints at the reasons without actually spelling them out.