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Response icon Preliminary Reports from the Hyogo-ken Nambu Earthquake of January 17, 1995

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Summary of the Earthquake

Overview of Structural Damage

Geotechnical Effects

Initial Reconnaissance Efforts

Emergency Response

Social Impacts

Economic Impacts

Selected Bibliography


Social Impacts

By James D. Goltz

The most significant societal impact of the Hyogoken Nambu earthquake was the tremendous loss of human life; the earthquake, with a duration of approximately 10-12 seconds, caused over 5,000 deaths. There were in excess of 26,000 injuries. Although the total number of rescues is unknown, news reports which appeared during the first three days after the earthquake indicated that over 1,000 people were missing, most of whom were presumed to be buried under collapsed structures. Currently, the number of missing has been reduced to less than thirty. For over 300,000 survivors in the heavily impacted cities of Kobe, Ashiya and Nishinomiya who were displaced from their homes, there were the hardships of finding shelter, securing food and water, locating friends and family members and acquiring warm clothing for the cold, damp winter weather.

Although some of the displaced were taken in by relatives and friends, and others possessed the means to relocate to hotels, those requiring emergency shelter reached a peak of 235,443 on Tuesday evening, the day of the earthquake. Many camped in public parks or assembled makeshift shelters from materials salvaged from the wreckage of their homes. The 1,100 shelters included community centers, schools and other available and undamaged public buildings but facilities were too few to avoid severe crowding in some shelters causing sanitation problems and increased risks of communicable disease. Indeed, two weeks after the earthquake, reports of influenza and pneumonia are becoming common. On Saturday, January 21, the Hyogo Prefectural Police opened a 24-hour counseling service which could be accessed either by phone or in person at police headquarters in Kobe. The number of people who received psychological counseling through this service and others is not known at this time.

Food, water for drinking and sanitation, blankets and warm clothing were in short supply for at least the first few days after the earthquake and many people from the wards hardest hit made the long walk to the Mshinomiya railway station, journeyed to Osaka for necessities, then returned via rail with whatever they were able to transport by hand. By Friday, January 20, both official and volunteer efforts to supply the basic needs of the impact area were becoming increasingly evident. Corporations and other non-governmental organizations donated goods and transportation was provided by both business and government vehicles. In some cases, normal production schedules and processes were modified to assist in the relief effort. Kirin Breweries, for example, filled quart-sized bottles with drinking water and shipped thousands of cases into the Kobe area.

Amid the overwhelming need for safe shelter, some residents chose to remain in damaged residential buildings despite uncertainty regarding structural integrity. There was little evidence during the first week that access and egress of even the most severely damaged homes and apartment buildings was being monitored, and cordoned areas were few and unenforced. Although temporary housing is now being constructed and rent-free rooms have been offered by apartment owners, the demand for longer-term housing exceeds availability by a factor of ten. Those displaced by the earthquake are likely to compete for available housing with construction workers, technicians and engineers who are converging on the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto area anticipating large contracts for reconstruction.

Sources: personal observations at the disaster site from January 18th to 25th; interviews with those in the high impact areas; and news reports from both local and international media


Some of the material reported herein is based upon work supported in whole or in part by the National Science Foundation, tbe New York State Science and Technology Foundation, the U.S. Department of Transportation and other sponsors. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of MCEER or its sponsors.

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