On Tuesday the 17th of January in 1997, and earthquake struck in south central Japan in the town of Kobe and Osaka, Japan's second most populated and industrialised area, after Tokyo. The shock occured at a shallow depth on a fault running from Awaji Island through to the city of Kobe, which has a population of 1.5 million. The earthquake, measuring at a magnitude of 7.2 (mj) began at 5:46 am, and the strong ground shaking lasted for about 20 seconds, causing severe damage over a large area.
After the earthquake 5,500 deaths were confirmed, and 35,000 were seriously injured. More that 300 000 people were homeless because of the destruction of their homes. 180 000 buildings were badly damaged or destryoed, and because of this, all economic activity in Kobe virtually halted. Because so many people lost their homes, severe crowding in shelters occured, and sanitation problems increased with a risk of communicatable desease. After only two weeks of the earthquake, influenza and pnuemonia were commonly seen. After the earthquake, fires broke out and spread and were uncontrollable for more than 4 weeks, and caused losses almost as much as the ones resulting from the shaking.
The direct damage caused by the shaking was approximately 13 trillion yen (147 billion U.S), and damaged occured more than 100 kilometres from the epicentre. The repair costs ranged from U.S 95 billion to 147 billion, which is an economic loss greater that the gross national product of many countries. The region shaken by the earthquake amounts for almost one fifth of th Japanese economy.
The region of Kobe is seen as a hotspot for earhquakes due to its location over the intersection of the three tectonic plates: the Pacific, Eurasian, and Phillipene, making the Earthquake of 97 a natural disaster which no one could predict or prevent.