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Why Did so Many People Die in the Kobe Earthquake? Essay Sample

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Why Did so Many People Die in the Kobe Earthquake? Essay Sample

As a class we have been asked to investigate “Why did so many people die in the Kobe earthquake?” In this project I will be covering:

1.Where, when and why the earthquake happened and which plates were involved.

2.What the primary and secondary effects were.

3.How well prepared the Japanese people were for the earthquake.

4.How well people coped with the disaster.

5.How the Japanese authorities put thing’s right afterwards.

To do this I will be using my class work and searching the internet to help find pictures, diagrams and useful resources.


The earthquake happened in Kobe, in Japan, which is towards the south of the island, underlined in red on the map below. Kobe is situated on flat land between high mountains and the sea. It is an important route centre because it has motorway (Hanshin Expressway) and intercity (‘bullet train’) railway lines passing through it and a large modern port, which handles millions of tonnes of trade each year.


At 5:46am (while many citizens were still asleep) on the 17th of January, 1995 the huge earthquake struck measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale. It was Japans largest earthquake since the one that hit Tokyo in 1923! Seismic waves (travelling waves of energy) moved towards the surface and disturbed buildings, roads, bridges, sewage systems and main supplies of water, electricity and gas.


The earthquake happened because the Eurasian, Philippine Sea and Pacific tectonic plates (sections of the earth’s crust which float on mantle) were all moving towards each other, which created friction when they gradually met at the plate boundaries. This made lots of pressure build up, then suddenly part of the plates gave way causing huge energy waves to be released and spread from the focus point (the place where it gave way) up towards the epicentre (the point at ground level, directly above the focus), which was Awaji. An island just south of Kobe.

This diagram shows the tectonic plates moving towards Kobe.

What were the Primary effects?

1. Fire fighting was difficult because of the lack of water and restricted access.

2. 285,000 telephones weren’t working.

3. 12 trains were derailed.

4. 1Km of the elevated Hanshin expressway collapsed

5. A total of 5,477 people died and there were 35,00 injuries. Lots of these were caused by falling debris in the streets.

6. Nearly 172,000 houses collapsed while many other buildings were also affected; 35 schools and 3 hospitals.

7. Fires destroyed 7,500 homes.

8. In some places sections of the roads and pavements had been pushed up over 10cm from their original positions, making it impossible to drive vehicles along them.

9. Sewers discharged their contents onto the streets.

What were the Secondary effects?

1. The city’s traffic was gridlocked, delaying the emergency services.

2. Fires started when the gas pipes leaked. Fortunately the weather was not good for fires; otherwise the damage would’ve been even greater.

3. 316,00 people had to evacuate their homes and the temperature had fallen to -2�C outside!

4. Thousands of business buildings were destroyed because many were not earthquake proof; so extra jobs were created in the construction and related industries.

5. Some buildings were left standing at an angle because parts of the ground beneath had liquefied.

6. Almost 300,000 people were left homeless and had to be given emergency shelter.

7. Children who lost out on education may not get such good jobs in the future.

All this happened just from 20 seconds of an earthquake.

Japan thought they were prepared for any earthquake because they had spent lots and lots of money on hi-tech equipment, which they thought would detect such an event. However, it didn’t work because you cannot detect earthquakes, they just suddenly happen, when the tectonic plates give way.

As a result of this, they had not put any thought or money into emergency services and drills. There wasn’t enough equipment, staff or any planning in case it did ever occur. They were busy non-stop. One witness said, “We never saw any emergency services, just families helping each other out of the rubble.”

It was so long since the last earthquake, that the public didn’t know what to do when it hit them either, they weren’t prepared at all! They had never been given any guild lines or rules on what they should and shouldn’t do in an earthquake. It really was a catastrophe!

In the end Japan had to ask for help from abroad. This included getting sniffer dogs, to sniff out bodies under rubble, all the way from Switzerland.

The people coped terribly because it was such a shock to them, especially as they hadn’t been prepared. They had to live in emergency shelters or camp outside in -0? temperatures! The shelters were cramped because there were so many people that were now homeless. (Japan has one of the largest populations of over 126,926,000!!)

There was insufficient food and water, and very few people had any heating or light. The lack of water was probably worst for them to cope with, because you can’t survive without it, and people were selling it for about �1.50 per litre! (Very, very expensive!) Also they had little money because most of their houses had burnt or fallen down, so they hadn’t been able to take any with them. Water was in short supply until April 1995.

Also, school pupil’s education was disrupted hugely because there weren’t even any buildings to teach in! A lot of young people in this country would be pleased if they didn’t have to go to school, because we take so much for granted. But, education is important and they were missing out on it. What if they were about to take exams, what were they supposed to do?! There was nothing they could do apart from trying their best to get things as back to normal as possible.

As well as not being able to physically cope, it was hard mentally too. So many of them had lost loved ones, been injured, were in shock, were emotionally unstable-stressed or were panicking/worried. It was terrible! Results show that after the Kobe earthquake, the rate of suicides increased compared to before the incident.

So, it must’ve had a very big impact to cause people to commit suicide.

* Water, electricity, gas and telephone services were fully working by July 1995

* The railways were back in service by August 1995

* A year after the earthquake, 80% of the port was working but the Hanshin Expressway was still closed.

* By January 1999, 134,000 housing units had been constructed but some people still had to live in temporary accommodation.

* New laws were passed to make buildings and transport structures even more earthquake proof.

* More instruments were installed in the area to monitor earthquake movements.

* Schools, factories and other buildings now have regular earthquake drills.

Many people died in the Kobe earthquake because they definitely were not prepared, they couldn’t all cope and because the government had wasted lots of money on hi-tech equipment.

It wasn’t the people’s fault that they weren’t ready, because it came totally out of the blue. There wasn’t anything anybody could do to stop it.

But, however, the government could’ve helped more by spending their money on more important things.

Such as:

* More earthquake proof building regulations, to prevent them falling down.

* Emergency services, staff, preparation (planning) and equipment.

* General awareness campaigns to the public, giving advice on what to do in an earthquake and practicing emergency drills.

These ideas could’ve saved thousands of lives if done properly. It’s so simple; I don’t know how they managed to go so wrong! If people like me can understand and work out how to prepare for an earthquake, then what kind of fools were running the country at the time and not taking the right actions?!! And, who influenced them to do so?!

Overall, I think the Kobe earthquake was a complete disaster. It wasn’t anyone’s fault that it happened, but if I had to blame anybody for the high amount of deaths it would be the government. Even though Japan has got loads and loads of money, they didn’t spend it wisely and because of it probably the whole population suffered in some way.

In my opinion they took careless, unthoughtful actions before hand, without a backup plan, which cost thousands of people their lives, which can never be repaid for, no matter how much money there is!

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