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Mother nature can be one of the most unpredictable and vengeful mythical realities of the twenty-first century. Although science continues to advance at a rapid pace-making many believe that they are impervious to the wrath of nature-there are always surprises in store when it come to the battle nature and man. While many of these battles can be predicted with some amount of accuracy, others spring to light in an instance and leave many wondering where science has gone awry. This scenario accurately describes the Kobe earthquake: one of the twentieth century's most devastating earthquakes.
On January 17, 1995 at 5:46 a.m. (local time), an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale devastated the city of Kobe, Japan. While the quake was comparable to the one that struck Los Angeles only a year earlier, the desolation was perhaps even more exacerbated due to the fact that the quake struck Japan's second-most populated industrialized area with a total population of approximately 10,000 million.
The end result was catastrophic:
- 6,400 dead
- An estimated $100 billion in damage
Understanding what happened in Kobe in 1995 is relatively simplistic. Describing the event in scientific terms, the official EQE Summary Report concluded the following:
- The shock occurred at a shallow depth on a fault running from Awaji Island through the city of Kobe.
- Strong ground shaking lasted for about 20 seconds and caused severe damage over a large area.
- Damage was recorded over a 100-kilometer radius from the epicenter, including the cities of Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto, but Kobe and its immediate region were the areas most severely affected.
- Damage was particularly severe in central Kobe, in an area roughly 5 kilometers by 20 kilometers parallel to the Port of Kobe.
What is perhaps most interesting about the earthquake is the fact that, in terms of magnitude, it was not one of Japan's biggest quakes. Despite this, however, the close proximity of its epicenter to an urban area coupled with its large ground motion-the quake occurred at a relatively shallow depth of only 30 kilometers-made it one of the most devastating in Japanese and world history.
Arguably, the death toll and the economic impact of the Kobe earthquake were overwhelmingly stunning. More damage and loss of life occurred in Kobe than any Japanese quake since the one in Tokyo in 1923, which killed 143,000 people. While the quake itself was hard to image, and in many cases could not be accurately described or photographed, the quake was not the only problem with which Japan had to deal. The aftermath that ensued directly after the quake caused as much, if not more, harm to the area.