EARTHQUAKE IN JAPAN: THE AFTERMATH: The city has the look of 100 Leanin g Towers of Pisa - a pile of dominoes

Horrendous as it was, the Kobe disaster could have been far, far worse. The quake struck at 5.46am, when most of the population was asleep or just starting to stir.

Although most of those who died were crushed inside their homes, or collapsed apartment buildings, authorities said the death toll would have been much higher during the working day. Even half an hour later, the elevated roads and railway tracks shreddedby the quake would have been filling with commuter traffic.

Most residents of Kobe and neighbouring cities, if they woke at all, were savagely shaken from their sleep. The reaction of a little boy, questioned last night in a school assembly hall where his family had been evacuated, was typical: "There was a tremendous crashing and I closed my eyes. Then I ran underneath a table and wrapped myself in a futon."

About 100,000 people spent last night in shelters, while authorities worked frantically to extinguish fires and restore vital services. On the outskirts of town, almost every house had collapsed. More than 7,000 houses were reported destroyed in the Kobearea alone. Throughout the night, the sky was lit with the eerie orange glow of dozens of fires.

Japanese television carried heart-wrenching scenes of people awaiting rescue. In footage from Osaka, the face of a woman was visible in the rubble. "I've been sitting in a small space here," she cried out in a feeble voice. "But my mother has bad legs and can't last much longer."

A fire in one old quarter of Kobe where many of the houses were made of wood, was defeating the efforts of firefighters 12 hours later. The government was coming under increasing criticism last night for the slowness of rescue efforts.

"I think rescue measures have been very slow," Professor Osamu Koide of Tokyo University said. "There was a lack of quake-preventive knowledge."

More aftershocks shook the region early yesterday and more were predicted for the coming week. Katsuyuki Abe of Tokyo University Seismology Institute said there was a 30 per cent chance that one would be nearly as strong as the first quake.

The scale of the disaster became evident with each live television despatch. These were interspersed with a lengthening table of the dead, their names read out punctiliously and without inflexion by an announcer. On the island of Awaji their ages varied from a few months' old baby, to a man of 85.

Almost uniformly, both Japanese victims and reporters showed extraordinary self-discipline and control of emotions. Only at midnight, as the truth sank in among the evacuees in gyms and assembly halls, without adequate food, water or heating, their homesdestroyed or too precarious to return to, did repressed anger and misery begin to show. Several people brushed away reporters. Many of those spending the night in shelters had fled their homes with nothing more than scanty nightclothes. "I brought no food with me," said a man interviewed by Japanese television as he huddled near a fire in a garbage bin in a parking lot. "But someone gave me food. We're all sharing everything."

One shivering middle-aged man refused to come indoors. "I don't want to go inside a building. It's cold, but I would rather stay outside than in a building that may collapse on top of me again."

Regular earthquake drills at school and the public exercise sponsored by the government every 1 September, the anniversary of the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, paid-off, although residents in western Japan, more innocent of the danger, seemed less stocked with "earthquake rations" than their Tokyo counterparts.

The Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, pledged decisive action in between offering his condolences to the dead. Kobe had not previously been considered a major centre of seismic activity, although several active faults run through the region, 450km (280

miles) west of Tokyo. The last serious quake to hit the area was a magnitude 6.1 quake in 1916.

"I never dreamed we would get hit by a quake like this here in Kobe," said a taxi driver, Rikihiro Sumino, who was hit in bed by a falling dresser but saved from serious injury by the padding of his blankets. "I figured it would happen in Tokyo, but never to us."

Other survivors were still dazed. "Where's the water, where's the food. What's going on," asked Kioyoko Terada, a housewife who had just lost her stepfather and stepmother after the second floor of their house fell to the ground. "There was a bang, then the furniture, the ceiling, the wall all seemed to fall at the same time. I looked up and saw the sky."

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?