The days when life did not go on

Yamanaka Ryuta, 35, company employee, Kobe-shi Higashinada-ku

At that moment, I did not know how to react to the sight before me: was it reality or a nightmare? I had a strange feeling that I had been thrown into a space remotely different from that of yesterday. It was a world where everything went haywire. An old lady, wrapped in a blanket, planted herself down in front of her own house with a vacant look. In an ordinary day, neighbor couples would take their dogs for a stroll on the path beside her house.

I looked at the bodies arranged in an orderly fashion on the cold ground as if watching them in a movie. The pedestrians walking on the wave-like roads seemed to travel at a speed faster than cars. Most of the buildings and lampposts were inclined, making us lose our sense of balance.

That day, a different dimension seemed to have interacted with reality. At any rate, it took me quite a while before I got myself together. The dust-covered streets were dominated by chaos. Everyone was at a loss. In fact, probably few people went to work after the quake. We knew glife must go onh, but it was impossible then.

In my mind, Kobe was the last place to be struck by an earthquake, and a major earthquake was something from another world.

But the evidence of an earthquake was everywhere: men flung into the air following a loud roar and the miserable sight of the rooms. At first, we thought the condominiumfs elevator had exploded. Overconfidence had added an undesirable twist to our judgment, which was probable one of the most horrible things on earth.

An earthquake research institute once pointed out the risk faced by Kobe. I wondered how many Kobe residents were aware of this finding. Granted, informing Kobe residents of the impending danger would have sent them into panic, but was it not necessary to make known the existence of an active fault and get us mentally prepared over time?

Few people would actually spend big money reinforcing their houses for some unknown future danger. But most of us could have easily slept away from the chests, or have the furniture stabilized with fixing brackets. If such simple measures had been taken on the individual level, some of the victims would have been saved. I am disgusted because with the lack of knowledge and the administrative departments that kept the information secret.

Turn off the fire during an earthquake. Take cover underneath a table. Get out of the house at once. These are useful tips to follow but all went unheeded because all of us thought it was going to be a minor earthquake. Who would imagine that in a space of twenty seconds, the earthquake would become so violent that it ruined the whole city?

After every major incident or disaster, we would say something like eput the lesson learned into future preventionf and move on. But it is also important to implement long-term measures, e.g., improving prediction accuracy, disaster readiness, and instilling a sense of crisis in the residents.

Kobe was a beautiful city, and many who had moved here were attracted to the wonderful environment surrounded by the sea and mountains. In fact, I was one of them. I spent my youth here, and had been dreaming of living in Kobe forever. Last year, my dream finally came true and I felt I had returned to where I belong. Therefore, my heart aches whenever I see the sight of the ruined cityscape.

We are deeply shocked at the loss of our beloved city, but 90 per cent of the residents have chosen to stay in Kobe and they will become the drive force for the recovery. With the people trying to overcome the sorrow and stand up again, the city is regaining its energy.

In the condominium where I live, people are actively communicating, and the spirit of mutual aid is nurtured. Indeed, we have lost a significant numbers of things, but we have also learned a lot, such as caring, mutual help, appreciation and family bond. These are the things that should have been important to us in the first place, but had been left to oblivion. This earthquake has helped bring back these values. In a sense, it has shown us the root of our society.

Immediately after the quake, people huddled around a fire, and a sense of comradeship was formed naturally. Information about daily life was passed along on the grapevine. Volunteer activities of an unprecedented scale have produced a kind of self-purification for our society. I am moved that so many people have a heart of gold. Every one tries to ghelp those in needh. I am genuinely pleased at the growing base of the volunteer work.

At that difficult time, even primary school kids went about distributing bread and milk without instructions from their parents. They had lost the toys their parents bought for them, but they made use of waste materials and make toys for themselves. Children who have experienced the earthquake look more matured. When they grow up, these kids, who have become gentler and stronger, will surely transform
Kobe into a wonderful city beyond what we have now.

gNo more earthquake, Daddy, donft worry. Anyway, Ifll stand by you,h said my four-year-old daughter.

I would like to think that this catastrophe has not inflicted a scar on her young heart, but provided a medicine for her to get stronger instead. Now, I can start thinking of making Kobe my final home.@