Kobe horror gives California a grim reminder

The scenes of death and destruction in Kobe was greeted with particular horror and fear in California, on the far side of the seismically active Pacific Rim.

The quake occurred on the first anniversary of the Northridge quake in Los Angeles, casting a still deeper pall over the candle-lit vigils and church services held in memory of the 57 victims. Yesterday a notice fluttered outside the site of a collapsed apartment block in which 16 people were killed a year ago. It read: "People of Kobe. We Sympathise."

If the trauma still suffered by Californians is any measure of what the Japanese quake victims will now face, then the picture looks bleak. Some Angelenos are still receiving therapy for the stress, fear, and sleeplessness inflicted by a quake that was less powerful than Kobe's. A poll this month found that found that four out of ten parents in the hardest-hit areas say their children still suffered nightmares.

But the shock of the disaster was also particularly intense because it happened in Japan - the country which Americans have long envied because of the sums it has spent preparing for earthquakes. If a 7.2 magnitude quake can cause such devastation there,what would happen if one hits the West Coast? The pictures from Kobe served as a reminder that widespread death and mayhem is inescapable in a quake of that size, and that no refurbishment programme is ever likely to be extensive enough to repair all the older or ill-constructed buildings that crop up in every city in the world. It was also a reminder to California to put its crumbling house in order.