Sunday, 17 May 2015

Those who survive earthquakes forced to carry on

The Nepal earthquake and its aftermath has left many people struggling to maintain a decent existence in that country but it is the way people there deal with the current post-apocalyptic moment that I think will end up defining them. At least for themselves but possibly also for people in other countries who are observers of what is happening there. In Japan, the population is adept at coping with this kind of disaster as we know. In the photo, which I took in Kobe a couple of months after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in early 1995, you can see people going about their daily business even though significant parts of the city's public and private infrastructure were destroyed by the tectonic movement.

My work team from Tokyo made the trip in spring of that year after the earthquake in January in order that we might see first-hand the effects of a major earthquake. We combined this purpose with legitimate work assignments, so on the trip we visited a number of factories where we gathered the materials necessary for application stories that we later completed for use in corporate publications.

I remember we had to get off the train in one part of Osaka and take a bus that connected us with another functional part of the rail line because parts of it had been rendered impassable by the earthquake. We took a plane to Osaka landing at the Kansai International Airport even though our flight was domestic. On the bus from the airport to Osaka we drove past rows of buildings that had collapsed, and where one or two floors has been simply crushed flat under the weight of the structure as it was bounced up and down by the forces of the recent earthquake. There were still signs in those low-lying areas around the harbour of liquefaction, where the earth simply turned to mud under the influence of the seismic forces unleashed. Other buildings, like this one in the picture, were rendered useless when they were toppled off their foundations by lateral forces in the earthquake.

Parts of the residential quarters of Kobe burned to the ground when gas that leaked as a result of the earthquake ignited causing a conflagration. We walked past many destroyed homes built in the traditional Japanese style comprising a wooden structure and a tile roof. The weight of the tiles caused the homes to collapse in many cases. Men in official uniforms could be seen performing a range of tasks among the ruins as the city prepared to reconstruct those areas that had been badly damaged.

What I remember most about that visit to Kobe and Osaka was not the collapsed elevated motorway, though such memorable images saturated the media throughout those months in other parts of Japan, as well as overseas. What I remember most from those days was the way people were going about their daily business amid the rubble and despite the ruin that was everywhere visible. The Japanese demonstrated a practical ability to adapt to the circumstances of disaster that will always remain with me.

And you can see how this kind of frequent disaster can have changed the national character, making the Japanese circumspect, considerate, supportive, stoic, and prompt to carry out orders. They are pragmatic and practical too. I hope that we get to see how the Nepalese adapt to their new circumstances. It has been, I think, around 70 years since the last "big one" in Nepal, which is not so long ago. Perhaps the Nepalese have over the millennia adapted to seismic disasters like the Japanese have done. I do not know.

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