Case Study: Kobe Earthquake

A written case study with a factfile summary on the Kobe Earthqauke 17/01/1995.

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Helena BoniciGeography22/11/2011
13EA2 Plate Tectonics
Devastation reigned on 17th Jan 1995 when an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 hit, with the epicentre being found at Kobe City, Japan.
Kobe lies on a boundary of three plates the Eurasian, Pacific and Philippine. It creates a lot of pressure as all three moves towards each other and thus creates a converging, or destructive, boundary. Due to
the nature of boundary and its location, Kobe lies on a fault and is the epicentre of the fault, and is where the earthquake stemmed from.
The tensions and build-up of pressure largely occurs due to the Philippine plate subducting underneath the Eurasian plate, and the Pacific plate does as well. There is the
Ryukyu Oceanic Trench which has volcanic activity, and pressure in the benioff zone and the area of partial melting can build up with tension.
The earthquake occurred as much of the built up pressure at the boundary of the three plates was released and Kobe was worse hit
because it was the epicentre.
The earthquake only hit a 7.2 on the Richter scale, however, this was combatted by its depth, which was shallow,
and so enabled large amounts of damage to occur as the waves had less material to travel through, and lower their
energy before it had reached the surface
A lot of the impacts occurred very quickly but were largely long term issues during the earthquake. It was because the earthquake `pancaked' house (so flattened them)
which later lead to 300,000 people being homeless and having to live on the streets, which was dangerous due to the aftershocks that appeared, and the threat of another earthquake of a similar size. The
`pancaking' of homes was also dangerous to the people that occupied them because many were still sleeping and thus were unaware of the quake so when the house fell, they were unaware.
Many were made homeless also by the earthquake effecting the gas mains and electrical supply. It caused the cracking of pipes within the ground, so that gas was released. Due to the chemical nature and
volatility of gas, it meant that amid the debris of buildings fires easily broke out, causing devastation to the city. Overall, there were over 150+ fires within Kobe, which killed over 1,000 people. A loss of
electricity to many surviving households also had a negative impact due to the cold temperatures of Japan during the winter months, and the earthquake stuck in January.
Structures of many communications and transport facilities were destroyed in the earthquake, with it weakening their structures. An example is the Hanshin Highway which collapsed and fell on its side during
the quake. It crushed many cars, however was not as disastrous as perhaps first anticipated due to the early morning hour of the time in the local area, which meant many people were still sleeping and not
travelling via the highway for work.
Road structures as well as building structures were weakened also by the process of liquefaction that occurred. Liquefaction is the appearance of water rising to the surface sometimes in or around cracks that
form. The earthquake is the shaking of the surrounding ground which causes the water pressure to build which weaken the soil to allow water to rise and cracks to appear. The cracks will move and widen and
it causes instability upon any building works that appear on the land. This occurred in Japan so that some of the buildings walls were weakened so that any
aftershocks that were experience caused the falling of the building. Also, cracks intercepted roads and highways so that travel became impossible.
Although it took nine hours from the initial earthquake, 3000 army troops were sent to assist Kobe and then three days later 30,000 more were sent. The troops were
initially delayed simply due to the Japanese president being unaware of the earthquake, and once he had sent the troops, there were over 5 hours' worth of delays to get
into the city and help due to traffic jams from people attempting to leave the area as well as damage from the actual earthquake.
The Japanese government also failed to help the situation effectively when initial refusal of third party help was issued. Japan refused abroad aid and efforts to help,
especially from the U.S. so that their military could not provide an aircraft carrier as well as other necessary aids. Many believe that it was because Japan was too proud, despite the fact that they later revised
this decision.

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Helena BoniciGeography22/11/2011
13EA2 Plate Tectonics
The Japanese also did recognise the financial burden and loss to the families of those in the Kobe earthquake and so overall, ¥10billion (equivalent to £65million) was given to victims, and this allowed them
to help sustain themselves after the incident. It was not an immediate response, however and little money was given to Kobe from foreign public due to there being less `sympathy' ­ because Japan is a highly
developed country and wealthy.…read more

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13EA2 Plate Tectonics
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Helena BoniciGeography22/11/2011
13EA2 Plate Tectonics
ºKobe was actually highly prepared before the earthquake, as Japan has high tectonic activity levels generally, due to its location on The Ring of Fire. They do this by:
o Having radon detection boreholes because evidence suggests that there is an extra release of radon (radioactive gas) prior to some earthquakes
Japan already has 180 seismic stations to try and build a more detailed `model' in order to use seismic gap theory.
There are earthquake-resistant buildings (e.g.…read more


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