By Atsushi Ebihara
KOBE, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- Some 5,000 people gathered in Japan's Kobe on Friday morning to pray for the souls of the 6,434 victims of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.
In his remarks during the ceremonies marking the event, Kiso Hisamoto, who was recently elected Kobe mayor, urged city residents to continue sharing the lessons learned from the earthquake, which struck on the same day 19 years ago, and to utilize new ideas to further develop the city in the future.
Following a moment of silence at 5:46 a.m. local time, the exact time when the massive earthquake struck the city, a series of ceremonies were held in this city and neighboring areas in Hyogo Prefecture.
Thousands of people attended the ceremonies despite the cold weather. The temperature in the city center dropped to 5 degrees Celsius in the morning.In Higashiyuenchi Park, more than 10,000 lit bamboo lanterns arranged to form the date, "1.17".
Isamu Uenishi, 86, an earthquake survivor, narrated during the ceremony his sad experience when his bedridden father died after the forced evacuation. He said that the relatives of the earthquake victims believed that the authorities should take more measures to enhance disaster mitigation in order to save lives.
Uenishi said that he had made a pilgrimage to the prefecture's memorial to pray for all the victims who suffered in the tragedy and to wish that such a tragedy would never happen again.
Hisamoto, who became mayor only two months ago, told the attendees that the city's duty is to find the lessons to be learned from the earthquake and provide post-disaster recovery know-how to people around the world. "In addition to the big earthquake here in Kobe in 1995, we experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami about three years ago, and massive disasters happened last year on Izu OshimaIsland, eastern Japan, and also in the Philippines," Hisamoto said.
The mayor said that people should realize that strong earthquakes usually result in great devastations, killing people and destroying properties. "Kobe City, therefore, will step up its efforts to protect communities and their properties from such tragedies, strengthening disaster prevention training and taking related measures to prepare for major quakes, including one with an epicenter in the Nankai Trough off Japan's Pacific coast," Hisamoto said.
After the speeches at the park, a 44-year-old university professor told Xinhua that no matter how people prepare for disaster preparedness, there is still a need for good neighborly relations so that people can help each other and coordinate their moves in saving lives. "While we can expect visible measures taken by local authorities to rebuild sound communities after a disaster, we the people participating in a series of local memorial events held here should understand the key aspect for best protecting ourselves from the worst tragedy is for neighbors to know each other and to strengthen coordination. Municipal and local authorities should strengthen grassroots networking not just to prepare for such calamities but also to speed up rehabilitation and reconstruction work," he said.
Meanwhile, a 27-year-old employee of a trading firm in Kobe said that although he remembered the city being devastated by the quake when he was a boy, he still wanted to know the reason why many people with bright future ahead had to be killed all at once.
"The experience in Kobe tells us that we can only help each other to survive and restore our environment when we face such a major disaster like the one that struck here nearly 20 years ago. I think all the victims' relatives would agree with me," he said.
On Friday, nearly 50 memorial events were scheduled in the prefecture throughout the day.