Monday, January 17, 2011

Kobe earthquake, 16 years ago! Is Japan ready today?

My memories of Kobe Earthquake today after 16 years...

I was in Kobe covering for the French National and International Radio and Television the Great Hanshin earthquake which stroke the area on Tuesday, January 17, 1995, at 05:46. Reporting all day long from my Tokyo office, I then caught the first shinkansen rolling after 5PM, I reached Kyoto in the evening, then Osaka, then walked to Nishinomya and then walked all the way to Kobe along the debris, destruction and the desolation.

Told by Paris I was the first French reporter there, I also met a GB colleague of BBC on zone. While fire, screams, and horror went on and on, I did reporting on a society which had collapsed. I stayed all week reporting for my francophone network and thanks to my contacts and my knowledge of survival in crisis area, an heritage of the military academy school, I did lots of encounters, and met a lot of bravery among the victims, but what hurt most the people was the abandon they were left in.

Beyond reports, I also worked on healing the wounds and pains of victims. Sharing food, water. I reported as if I was myself a refugee and witnessed what the situation was hour after hour. Authorities escaped by official cars, some foreign diplomats shut their offices and ran away, hotels of Kobe locked their doors so that victims could not enter and take refuge. Fire-men had no water left in their trucks while fire broke out in many areas of Kobe. The City Hall became a nightmare!

The region reached such a level of devastation that Japan authorities appeared paralyzed. It took 3 days for help to reach the region, then those journalists who had stayed far away from danger started to pop in. What had they seen? Nothing. Paris City-hall sent the French firemen whom with their dogs saved numerous lives.

Someone said I won a prize for reporting, but what I just heard of was my national and international radios competing for my reports during that week. (Radio France, RFI, etc). I never got in mind to report for a prize as my attention was entirely focussed with the news and proper coverage of the situation. Besides, some of these news-stations did not act very courageously later on.

The Kobe victims were without water sometimes for 5 days! They remained under collapsed houses for 1 week! I was lucky I could survive as many aftershock shattered the region of Kobe after-while. Later on I wrote the story for a magazine which came to the eyes of the German ambassador who had good words after this work. I'll never forget this catastrophe.

A few months after I covered an other disaster that happened the same year: The Tokyo metro Sarin urban-terrorism attack led by the Aum Shinrikyo sect of the Guru Asahara. What if something similar happens today, earthquake or volcano eruption, disease or serious security crisis. Is Japan ready? I do not think so and so does Professor Toshiyuki Shikata, Security Counselor to the Tokyo Governor. I organized a panel discussion on "Security and Crisis Management in the Megalopolis".

Here is the MP3 URL for members 

A catastrophe of international repercussion may happen each second of our life in Japan!

Reporter's Notes

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Kobe earthquake, 16 years ago! Is Japan ready today? by Asian Gazette Blog of Joel Legendre-Koizumi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Anonymous2:20 AM

    Outstanding, Joel! Maybe a book would explain more in details what you saw during your reporting from Kobe city, you could update, 15 years after, what your perceptions are today in relation to the natural disaster. The authorities could learn from this story as the German ambassador did. What is useful for security purposes are facts more than emotions as shown on Japanese channels last year and also this year.

  2. Anonymous2:22 AM

    Dear Joel-san

    Yes. I won't forget either your Kobe. And because I'd heard your story, I didn't hesitate to go to Kobe with my TV.

  3. Anonymous2:24 AM

    Mon cher frère mon anglais est évidement moins bon que le tien mais j'apprécie ce que tu as écrit.


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