Kobe steeled for the aftershock

In Tokyo the recriminations have started, on the ground survival is all
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The Independent Online
Dry ice is the latest commodity to be in short supply in quake-devastated Kobe. In a catastrophe the like of which Japan has not experienced since the Second World War this may not sound earth-shaking. But dry ice, packed in white boxes on small vans that trail behind the siren-blaring ambulances and fire engines, performs a grizzly function in Kobe: the preserving of corpses. The rapid decay of bodies piled in makeshift morgues at schools and police stations makes identification a nightmare, an d with the death toll from Tuesday's quake now approaching 5,000, at least 40 per cent of recovered bodies are still without name tags.

Far from the scene of this colossal human tragedy there is much pondering on causes and consequences for Japan, plus the inevitable recriminations.

The Japanese army, or more correctly, "Ground Self-Defence Force", is accused of being late in sending emergency relief teams. The Defence Agency angrily retorts that local governments in the quake-stricken region were late in issuing "invitations." The

government is attacked for mismanaging the crisis, and Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama for lack of leadership, while in Osaka, Japan's second city which, though close to Kobe, was virtually unscathed by the earthquake, the governor upbraids the refugeesin Kobe for being lazy and spineless, and dependent on hand-outs.

Some have even questioned why Japan's second largest port and, with 1.5 million people, its fifth largest city was built directly above a seismic fault zone - ignoring the fact that Kobe's history and trading importance date back more than 1,000 years.

Being inside the hell of Kobe is the best cure for such wagging tongues: Mr Murayama, was reduced to saying that the destruction was far worse than anything he had imagined. While analysts in Tokyo try to estimate the eventual cost of the earthquake, th e all-consuming priorities on the ground are to rescue those still trapped under the rubble (three were miraculously pulled-out alive yesterday), to provide food and water, forestall the risk of disease, and cordon off the many buildings that are poised t o collapse.

Hungry, exhausted and deeply despondent, the citizens of Kobe have shown incredible stoicism, and the absence of looting stands in favourable contrast to what occurred after a far weaker quake struck Los Angeles. Authorities are now concerned that such responsibility may not last and the police presence in Kobe has been markedly stepped-up.

Frantic preparations were being made yesterday against the threat of heavy rain, which will further loosen the foundations of fractured buildings. Shortly after 9pm an aftershock rattled the city - a reminder of the everpresent danger of further quakes.

With a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale, the Southern Hyogo Earthquake on Tuesday was more than twice as powerful as that in Los Angeles, exactly one year before. In intensity it gave the uppermost reading of 7 on a Japanese scale of measurement, t h e highest ever recorded. It also devastatingly combined vertical and horizontal shaking, hence the curious sight of Kobe buildings which collapsed in the middle, from the vertical force, and of others which were rocked off their foundations by the horizo ntal force and are now angled to crash into the street.

The surrounding region is the giant workshop of Japan Inc and the port of Kobe its main outlet, accounting for 12 per cent of Japan's total exports. Only four of 239 berths of the vast port survived the quake, and the crippling effect on trade is alreadybeing felt throughout Asia. Toy manufacturers in Hong Kong have been deprived of plastic, and Malaysian carmakers wait anxiously for parts. On the other hand, rival steelmakers will benefit from the damage to the mills and furnaces of Kobe Steel, while shares in South Korea's Samsung Electronics shot up after the quake hit semiconductor factories in Kobe.

The Tokyo Fire Defence Department has released a report based on computer simulations of the likely effect on Tokyo of a similar earthquake. If epicentred below Shinjuku, a ward containing many skyscrapers in the western part of the city, and at 6am, thequake would cause 1,000 fires to break out, destroying more than 16 million square feet of the capital within one hour, and 67,700 people would be killed or injured. If it were to strike at 6pm, rush hour, the total could reach 860,000. Depar tment stores in Tokyo now report panic buying of earthquake ration kits.

The disaster has also given a tremendous public relations boost to Japan's biggest yakuza crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi- gumi. From its imposing headquarters in the severely damaged ward of Nada-ku, the gangsters have been handing out bread, noodles, m i lk, water and nappies to hundreds of grateful citizens.

Wild guesses, ranging between 5 trillion and 10 trillion yen (pounds 32bn-pounds 64bn), are being put on the bill for rebuilding Kobe and other devastated areas. More immediately, there is the 100 billion yen cost of providing prefabricated housing for the 300,000 homeless. After the killer eruption of the Mount Fugen volcano in June 1991, villagers from its lava-covered foothills have been living in such "temporary" shelters ever since. With more earthquakes predicted for ghost-ridden Kobe, many evac u ees may instead choose never to return to their homes.