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Kobe city is the 6th largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyogo Prefecture approximately 30 km west of Osaka with population of about 1,545,410 and with the population density being about 6,000 people per sq. km. It goes way back when the port of Kobe was opened as an international port and grew step by step by merging with neighboring villages and towns and it currently covers 550.72 sq. km, roughly built on a 3-tier structure; there is a port and industrial zone along the coast, and on the hillsides there are residential places and commercial areas that separate the mountains from the sea. The average temperature in this city is 17.10C, due to its position between the sea and mountains.
Kobe city is a part of the Keihanshin metropolitan area along with Osaka and Kyoto. It was founded in 1889; its name comes from “kanbe”, an archaic title for supporters of the city`s Ikuta Shrine. It became one of Japan’s cities in 1956. The city is long and narrow and is between the coast and mountains; adjacent cities include: Akashi to the west, Ashiya to the east and Sanda and Miki to the north. The landmark of the port area is the red steel port tower. Kobe is widely known for its international flavor as it receives many foreigners from as many as 115 different countries. Rokko Mountain ranges found in the city gives a pleasant backdrop to the Kobe city.
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The city is roughly divided into two parts by the Rokko Mountain range, the southern part, which the urbanized part of the city, is facing Osaka Bay and the North West area forms the new towns. The Togagawa River flows from the Rokko mountain range. Kobe city has nine wards, including: Tarumi ward, Nishi ward, Kita ward, Hyogo ward, Chuo ward, Nada ward, Suma ward, Nagata ward and Higashinada ward. Major faults include that of Awaji Island and Nojima fault. A few months after the earthquake, there was a published layout for a detailed plan of action; the main objective was to put the lives of the residents back to their normal lives as quickly as they could and to restore the city into a habitable and business region as it was before. The restoration plan was not only bringing back Kobe to normal, but was also improving and developing the town into a beautiful and commercial city.
The historical and current events in Kobe city
Significant earthquakes have been experienced for many years in many places within the city and the surrounding areas. The study shows that Japan is among many countries in Asian continent that have been affected by the earthquakes that have caused many severe damages in Japan and especially in Kobe. It was reported that thousands of people have lost their lives due to unpredicted earthquake and due to poor risk assessment by the past and present governments.
Flash floods are other hazards that the city has faced for a number of years because it is located in geographical areas where in case it rains the city becomes flooded. In the past years the government failed to improve the infrastructure within the city, so that many people may stay safe from the floods that sometimes cause destruction of major infrastructures in the area.
Landslides is another identified area where Kobe city faces major environmental hazards, because in Japan the soil texture is not strong enough to support the ecosystem and during the rainy season many landslide within and outside the city are experienced. Fire is one of the most day to day hazards that the city faces, since it is a major commercial center in the country. Most of the times many buildings are burned down due to poor electricity and other fire break points being poorly installed.
The 1995 significant earthquake
The earthquake occurred in Kobe in January, 17th, 1995 is popularly referred to as the Kobe earthquake. The earthquake left 6,425 dead, 25,000 injured, 300,000 displaced people and damaged about 100,000 buildings. The cost of the damage amounted to $132 billion and it is among one of the most expensive natural disasters in the history. The temblor lasted about 20 seconds and marked 6.9 on the Richter scale, the earthquake collapsed a major freeway, uplifted streets, and twisted and buckled railroad tracks.
The earthquake, as experts say, originated from a strike-slip jolt on the Nojima Fault which, prior to the accident, was never believed to be dangerous. The earthquake’s epicenter was 40 miles away from the city in the Akashi Straight just between Awaji and Honshu. It was a very traumatizing earthquake because it was shallow as it could cause extensive damage, it hit in parts of Japan that were considered to be unlikely for earthquakes to happen, hence there was less preparedness as even some people moved there to escape earthquakes in other regions in Japan. Currently, Kobe city is well prepared for any sudden earthquake or natural disaster of that matter. Citizens have been taught awareness and basic rules of how to protect themselves in case of repeat of incidents.
Kobe city came up with a disaster prevention and reduction, using a surveillance system to improve citizens` awareness. The government put up river improvements in the city, it has become evident that when rivers swell, evacuation calls are not enough and, hence, there is a need to educate the citizens and improve their awareness on damage prevention.
The policy research council has also put forth a plan to install cameras as well as systems that will monitor water levels. Currently, cameras have been installed at 16 rivers at 20 different locations and the rivers` levels are viewed on the website; data from a water level indicator from around the areas is also monitored. The site can also be accessed via cell phone, hence making it easy to access the website. The plan is very expensive, but the council was determined to raise awareness and it was successfully put up.
Additionally, there was an amendment to the proceeding seismic design standards of the 1990 guide specification for speedway bridges, and they came up with an experimental guide specification for seismic designs of new highways and strengthening the existing ones, just as a security measure. After the earthquake, the ultimate number of piers is to be inspected for force levels that should match up to 2.0 g. The government is also introducing isolation bearings to protect buildings from severe damages during earthquakes, in addition, a community recovery program was put up to reduce the vulnerability of some communities to a future natural disaster. The restoration plan offered by the officials is divided into three parts: to reduce vulnerability, to increase the living standards of people in the region and to build a secure city with people who reside in the city feeling safe again and viewing the city as their home. The restoration plan of Kobe includes a multiple goal plan that incorporates all scopes of society, all major issues affecting the region and well improved infrastructure.
The damages the earthquake caused
The damages caused by the earthquake were very extensive as they touched all sectors, halted businesses within the city and areas surrounding the city and also halted the normality of the residents’ lives, as most of them were in shock, while others were trying to find their loved ones and others were mourning the death of their relatives and friends. The Hanshin Express highway collapsed, and it caused great ground motions, which led to the damage to port and wharf facilities in the region. It was estimated that around 60% of all bridge frames were destroyed; the bridges were examined and found that the reason for the damage was either flexural shear degradation or shear failure; the accident occurred as a result of incompetent shear or lack of confinement reinforcement.
After the earthquake the port facilities became inoperable and inaccessible, since the roads leading to the port were destroyed. Traffic was interrupted due to collapsed expressway, sinking ground, cracks, and collapsed buildings. The public facilities including hospitals were destroyed. The piers were also destroyed due to the premature failure of steel bearings which allowed the pier to move freely during the earthquake. The city had initially prepared for such a natural event, but since it was considered to be a less risky area for earthquake, less emphasis was placed on mitigation purposes and most changes were made after the event occurred. The earthquake was unexpected as the region was considered very safe and people from other regions moved there for safety purposes; this was a major reason for so much damage as the city was unprepared and was caught unaware; similarly, the earthquake was shallow and the damage was very extensive, hence causing the great damage in structures and even loss of lives.
The epicenter of the Kobe earthquake was close to the urban area, hence, the highways, railways and even buildings were destroyed. Kobe city had a sewage that was relied on seven facilities, the earthquake reduced the sewage to six and two of the facilities were of much reduced capacity. Overall, 300,000 people became homeless, which is about 1/5 of the population, 400,000 buildings were damaged and other 185,000 partially destroyed, lifelines such as gas, water and phones were crippled. Major expressways were collapsed and bullet trains and subways were derailed. Kobe city lacked proper critical infrastructure at the time of the earthquake, an emergency plan, a natural disaster preparedness plan and also earthquake resistant buildings, which resulted to high loss of lives and normality in a densely populated urban area. The damage of the earthquake was physical in terms of collapsed building and structures, physical injuries, financial damages as people and the government at large lost their buildings worth a lot of money and the money was lost due to not operating their businesses. The financial damage also presents itself when the city was being restructured which caused the government trillions as they did intensive restoration; in addition there was emotional damage to the survivors as they mourned and recounted the ordeals of the earthquake.
In the case of the Kobe earthquake, everyone was vulnerable as it was immense and robust. However, there was high vulnerability of elderly people and, as reports confirm, they were the most affected as they lost their lives. This is because most of their houses were old and didn’t live up to the seismic reinforcements plan. The poor were also vulnerable as their houses were poorly built with little or no reinforcement at all; hence, their structures were immensely destructed. The children as well were vulnerable, as they were not aware of what was happening in the surroundings and some of their parents were trapped, they had no way out and hence were also trapped alive.
The illiterate people were also highly vulnerable, as they did not know the precautions to take to evade grave injuries and damages to their property. The above mentioned groups were vulnerable, and their situation became worse as they lived in buildings that were not properly reinforced to accommodate a seismic event.
The Toga river flashfloods
In the afternoon of July 28 in 2008, a flash flood occurred due to sudden localized torrential rain in the urbanized area of the river basin. As professionals analysed the situation, it was vivid that the floods happened in two minutes and they describe it as “the flood entering the accident area was like a tsunami flowing down a river”. The flash floods killed four people and about five to six people were trapped in the river.
The Toga River flows from Rokko Mountains through the Kobe city; it is a widely known river with many locals visiting the river, some fishing and some enjoying the water-friendly environment. This was until July 2008 when rains suddenly struck and the river turned into a raging torrent that claimed lives, especially those of children.
The river caused damaged to the Kabuto Bridge and the nearby dam, the flash floods also caused death of five people, as well as injuring six residents.
The officials were caught off guard on the flash floods as there were no indications of the water level rising in the Toga River and also the Toga River was considered to be safe and settled. After the incident, the officials have come up with disaster information sharing system and internet dissemination system to raise awareness of the dangers of flash floods and how to prevent such incidents, as well as measures to protect one if such a disaster reoccurs.
The officials also came up with a program that announces flash flood related disaster warning information. The program would warn municipalities who had likelihood of being affected. It would read “within two hours, the risk flash flood disaster will increase significantly because of heavy rain. Take special care at dangerous spots for these disasters”
The officials also have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness and give the residents evacuation directions in case of a flash flood. It also sends evacuation directions to places that are suspected to be victims of the flashfloods.
It is evident that now Kobe city is well prepared for such a natural disaster in the future. The changes were made mostly after the disaster, since the river was considered to be harmless; very few measures were taken to mitigate the effects of such a flashflood. The people and the buildings near the river were the most injured, since the river was in the midst of Kobe city.
The most vulnerable group in the flush floods was children and the victims were mostly kids; the women are also vulnerable when it comes to flash floods.
Disasters, such as fire, destroyed the Kobe city due to earthquakes, especially the 1995 earthquake, where the fire was a secondary killer, and was caused by leakage of gas into the air; there were about 500 casualties due to fire, and about 6,965 structures were destroyed. Other secondary disasters include collapsing of buildings that buried people alive and landslides that killed about 28 people.
As discussed above, Kobe city is a city with a flourishing economy and with its port being among the largest in the world. In previous times, it was considered to be the safest place in Japan in terms of earthquakes and flash floods. People migrated to this region because it was a less probable region for earthquakes; this made the officials not put much effort in preparing for any disaster, hence there was unpreparedness in the city. There was no citywide emergency plan, the Kobe city officials as well as the residents depended too much on the technological warning system and there was no warning whatsoever, as great officials such as the President learned about the disaster from the TV. The earthquakes and their subsequent secondary disasters was a major blow to Kobe city, some people lost their lives, most of the population became homeless, most businesses were destroyed and this had a major impact on the economy of Kobe as even reconstruction itself took up a lot of expenses.
After the earthquake, specialists and citizens at large lost faith in the technology of their early warning systems and earthquake construction techniques. The president was also criticized for not acting promptly to save the citizens and also for refusing international aid from different countries, including the United States of America. Local hospitals that were not destroyed also struggled to keep up with the demand of the medical emergencies, since some of the medical facilities had been brought down, the remaining facilities were insufficient and inaccessible due to the collapsed roads.
The earthquake and flashfloods were eye openers as the officials went ahead to curb further destruction of such natural disasters by setting up surveillance systems to monitor any warning signs; natural disasters awareness was now a major priority and the government concentrated also on tightening and improving the building and construction designs and requirements so as to be ready for greater earthquakes or flash floods. Other disasters that came with the earthquake and took away the lives of many people include fires, landslides and collapsing of buildings. Kobe city can now boast of being adequately prepared for any natural disaster that will come their way as they are well equipped with professional monitoring of any warning signs. Residents as well are not left behind as they are now well equipped with information on how to prevent such natural disasters and also how to protect them if such an occurrence hit again.
The natural disaster mentioned above tore Kobe city down, and it almost became a ghost town, especially due to the earthquake, but the officials have done a hard work and after the January 1995 incident, water, electricity and telephone lines were fixed by July, the trains came back in service by August, one year later the port was up and running, there were new laws passed regarding buildings and transport and lastly the officials increased the earthquake monitoring devices.
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