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    Kobe earthquake anniversary

    Today, it’s exactly ten years since the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which killed over 6500 people in and around Kobe. Given the recent catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in developing Southeast Asia, it’s sobering to recognize that, even in a country known for its whizbang technology and millennia of dealing with these things, recovery goes in fits and starts. Reason ran a piece a few years after the quake about bureaucratic problems that hampered both immediate rescue and long-term rebuilding, which has an unsettling resonance given the already-emerging charges of incompetence against UN personnel handling disaster aid now.

    There are a few other parallels. Kobe is not considered a hot earthquake zone in Japan. Neither is Niigata, which just got hit with a series of big ones in October. That means that building codes and disaster rehearsals were not up to the same standards as they are here in Tokyo, and not without justification. It just isn’t rational to expend all kinds of time, energy, and money getting ready for something that’s almost certain not to happen.

    That’s not to say that governments should rest on their laurels–the Mainichi published the results of a survey last week that indicated that many local governments don’t feel prepared to deal with disasters. This year saw an unusual series of typhoons with their attendant floods and mudslides, followed by the Niigata earthquake, so the possibilities are very much fresh in the minds of municipal authorities. Many lessons from the Kobe earthquake have also been assimilated and put into practice–the city of Sendai fitted its gas lines with a different shutoff system, and when a 6.9 M quake happened in 2003, it had reason to be grateful. But no matter what the police and fire departments do, people scattered through buildings and streets still have to know how to live through the first strike long enough to be helped. (BTW, if you’re reading this from Japan, do you have everything attended to?)

    Added on 18 January: Thanks to Far Outliers for linking this post. He went to high school in Kobe (which used to have one of the largest communities of foreigners in Japan, I think), and he offers a few interesting slice-of-life details from what he remembers pre-earthquake.

    Okay, last time I linked to something of Joel’s, I changed his religion and made him the author of a book he hadn’t written. And ended up in a long discussion about green beans. Therefore, I am making doubly sure he says he went to high school in Kobe, because I know he mentioned something about Kyoto in there…um, looks okay.

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