Cholera fear adds to Kobe's misery

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More than 300,000 people made homeless in Kobe by the Great Hanshin Earthquake are facing the danger of a cholera outbreak. Eight days after the quake, running water has not been restored, and many of the shelters lack even chemical lavatories.

Doctors warned yesterday that conditions posed a serious risk to debilitated refugees, especially the elderly.

At camps exposed to the wind, the homeless huddle in tents around camping stoves, but at indoor refuges heating is not allowed for fear of more fires.

Sixty medical teams, including 156 doctors, 204 nurses and ancillary staff, are reported to have arrived in Kobe from all over Japan, but according to NHK television last night, only 40 out of Kobe's 594 temporary shelters have been visited so far by doctors.

An NHK survey of doctors in Kobe found 70 per cent complaining of "insufficient" medical services.

Signs of malnutrition were also spotted, and after battling round the clock for eight days to cope with the nearly 27,000 injured, Kobe hospital personnel were at breaking point with doctors and nurses collapsing from lack of sleep.

People are in shock, said a city official. "They don't feel like eating. And some are not sleeping because of the fear of aftershocks."

The Earthquake Prediction Council has said a big aftershock of about six on the open-ended Richter scale could soon hit the devastated area. Kobe has been hit by more than 1,000 lesser aftershocks since the quake.

There is also a flu epidemic, a Kobe health official said. The Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, told parliament yesterday the government was stepping up frantic efforts to get flu medicine to the area. "Influenza is prevailing over the refugees."

"We are doing all we can to get medicine in," Mr Murayama said.

Although electric power is back on, much of Kobe remains without gas and water. "It will take two to three months for us to fully restore the water supply," said Koji Nagase, who is responsible for the restoration of water mains.

The horrors of the earthquake had a massive psychological impact on survivors, with people falling "into a stupor after losing families and homes," said Isamu Kuramitsu, a clinical psychologist at Osaka University. "This is a symptom similar to what we call war-phobia."