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1995: Earthquake devastates Kobe

VIDEO : Massive earthquake hits Japan

Hundreds of people are feared dead and thousands injured after a powerful earthquake struck Japan at dawn.

Worst hit was the port of Kobe, a city of 1.5 million. Whole buildings, apartment blocks and an elevated highway collapsed killing at least 200 people and injuring some 13,000.

Osaka and the ancient city of Kyoto were also severely damaged.

The earthquake measured 7.2 magnitude and was the biggest to hit Japan for 47 years.

It struck at 0546 local time just as commuters were starting their journey into work.


"The whole room was moving around like it was made of jelly"

Dennis Kessler, British journalist

Scientists say the epicentre was 15 miles (24km) below the island of Awajisima, 20 miles (32km)from Kobe.

The NHK national television station has broadcast pictures of a devastated Kobe, with smoke billowing over large sections of the city.

Hundreds of people are trapped under the rubble of flattened buildings, but damaged gas and water pipes are hampering the rescue effort.

Reports say at least two people died when the elevated section of the Hanshin motorway connecting Osaka to Kobe collapsed in three places.

It threw 50 cars off the edge and left a bus hanging over the edge.

Trains were derailed and power cut in some areas, leaving a million people without electricity.

Many hundreds of people are out on the streets wrapped in bedding, too afraid to go home in case of more after-shocks.

Eyewitnesses said the terrifying shaking lasted for about 20 seconds and was followed by several aftershocks.

British journalist Dennis Kessler living in Osaka described the moment he was woken by a loud roar and watched his second-floor flat sway like a pendulum.

"Every single object in our room was flying around," he told the Evening Standard newspaper.

"The walls and ceilings were moving and creaking, the whole room was moving around like it was made of jelly."

The prime minister, Tomiichi Muruyama, has ordered the creation of an emergency committee to handle the effects of the quake and sent troops to help the rescue operation.

In Context
Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries and experiences thousands of minor tremors each year.

But the Kobe earthquake was one of the worst in the country's history - 6,433 people died.

Nearly 27,000 people were injured, and more than 45,000 homes were destroyed.

The total cost of repairing the damage was estimated at more than $100 billion.

Japanese scientists have since tried to improve prediction of quakes, but seismology is an inexact science and it is extremely difficult to forecast when and where quakes it will occur.

Kobe struggled to overcome the huge impact of the 1995 earthquake.

New office blocks and malls were built to attract back the 50,000 people who left after the quake.


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