JAPAN: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Why Japan will recover from Sendai quake-tsunami
, April 2, 2011
Despite hysterical scaremongering in many parts of the media, there can be no doubt that Japan will quickly recover from the terrible earthquake off the port of Sendai, in northern Japan, which has cost the lives of tens of thousands of people, mainly as a result of a tsunami which swept up to 8 km inland, destroying coastal towns and villages in its path.
We can be confident of Japan’s recovery, because similar earthquake disasters have occurred before, in far more populous parts of Japan, and because of the Japanese people’s extraordinary willingness to work together to get over such crises.
Few of the alarmists who have virtually written off Japan after the earthquake have referred to the fact that Japan suffered a terrible earthquake just 16 years ago near Kobe, in Japan’s industrial heartland.
Before dawn on January 17, 1995, an earthquake of magnitude 7.2 struck the Kobe region of south-central Japan. This region is the second most populated and industrialised area after Tokyo, with a total population of about 10 million people.
The ground shook for only about 20 seconds but in that time, over 5,000 people died, over 300,000 became homeless and damage worth an estimated $200 billion was caused to roads, houses, factories and infrastructure (road, rail, gas, electric, water, sewerage, phone cables, etc).
Unlike the recent Sendai quake which occurred off-shore and affected mainly fishing and agricultural areas, between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of Japan’s industry is located in and around Kobe.
This includes most types of industry — from light manufacturing to high-technology and heavy industry. Due to the shortage of suitable flat land, as elsewhere in Japan, much of the industry is concentrated near the port on reclaimed land.
Strong ground movements led to settlement and liquefaction in these areas and so damage to industry was severe. The difficulties of transporting raw materials and finished goods to, from, and within the region also caused great problems for well-known industrial giants such as Panasonic and Mitsubishi.
Although the Kobe earthquake was not accompanied by a tsunami, there were many parallels with the recent tragic quake off the coast of northern Japan.
Many older buildings collapsed or caught fire, causing massive problems of homelessness. Telephones and other communication services were put out of action making communication slow and difficult.
Electricity and water supplies were badly damaged over large areas. This meant no power for heating, lights, cooking, etc. Clean, fresh water was in short supply until April 1995.
Many people had to sleep in cars or tents in cold winter conditions.
Kobe is also an important transit centre. It has a motorway (the Hanshin Expressway) and intercity bullet-train railway lines passing through it and a large modern port which handles millions of tonnes of trade each year.
The earthquake caused massive damage to all these transport facilities. Several sections of motorway, many of which were built above the ground on tall concrete stilts, collapsed or toppled sideways. This resulted in the motorway being completely closed for over a year.
Railway lines buckled and many stations were damaged. A 130-kilometre section of the bullet-train rail network had to be closed temporarily. At the port, cranes tilted or fell, and 120 (out of 150) wharves where ships were moored were destroyed.
Yet the country quickly recovered: industrial production in Japan fell 2.6 per cent in January 1995, but rose by 2.2 per cent in the following month, and was above average for the rest of 1995.
Water, electricity, gas and telephone services were fully working by July 1995, and the railways were back in service by August 1995.
A year after the earthquake, 80 per cent of the port of Kobe was working again. By January 1999, 134,000 housing units had been constructed. However, some people were still having to live in temporary accommodation.
New laws were passed to make buildings and transport structures even more earthquake-proof, no doubt helping to reduce casualties in the recent Sendai quake.
In a country which lies at the intersection of active geological faults, some earlier earthquakes were far worse than the recent event. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 killed an estimated 140,000 people, devastating both the capital Tokyo, and the industrial city of Yokohama.
The area around Sendai is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 1978 a magnitude 7.7 earthquake off the coast caused severe damage to Sendai, and in 1995 a magnitude 7.2 earthquake occurred in the Miyagi Prefecture, where Sendai is located. In 2008 a magnitude 6.9 earthquake occurred in the Iwate Prefecture, adjoining Miyagi.
Every time, the country has been quickly rebuilt. Despite the doomsayers, we can be certain that the Japanese people will rise to the challenge of the Sendai earthquake.