Related topics

For Japan, Rude Shock Over Limits Of Quake-Resistant Architecture

January 17, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s faith in its quake-resistant architecture was shattered today along with the buildings and bridges that collapsed in a devastating earthquake.

Observing the damage caused by quakes in the United States, many Japanese experts confidently predicted that Japan’s advanced technology would protect newer structures against even a powerful quake.

But the port city of Kobe turned out to be no sturdier than Los Angeles or San Francisco. Many modern buildings were among those knocked down, and sections of major highways collapsed.

``We used to believe that Japanese roads and houses were built well so what had happened in California won’t happen here,″ said Suminao Murakami, a Yokohama National University professor. ``That was wrong.″

Several elevated sections of Hanshin Expressway connecting the western cities of Osaka and Kobe fell or twisted over on themselves as their columns collapsed. The expressways had been designed to endure earthquakes as big as the 1923 Toyko earthquake, which had a magnitude of 8.3.

``I can’t believe this,″ Yozo Fujino, Tokyo University professor of bridge engineering, told the national Asahi newspaper. ``We should review the safety of existing bridges.″

Other experts expressed shock at the extensive damage to structures, even newer ones. About 3,000 buildings were wrecked, and more than a dozen sections of elevated bullet train lines were cracked and damaged.

Akihiro Takimizu, a Japan Railway Co. spokesman, said the company built rail lines strong enough to endure ``strong″ earthquakes, but that the magnitude of this quake _ 7.2 _ was too great.

``When an earthquake is more powerful than the capacity of our facilities, we can’t do anything about it,″ he said. ``That’s natural disaster.″

Masayuki Kikuchi, a Yokohama City University physics professor, said heavy damage was inevitable in a quake as strong as the one today.

``Active faults are scattered all over Japan, and the nation’s major expressways and railways are built on top of them,″ Kikuchi said.

The quake knocked out telephone service to and within Kobe, hampering rescue efforts.

``I think the lesson we should learn from today’s earthquake is that big cities should be well equipped with special communication systems so the damages can be minimized,″ Kikuchi said.

The assumption in Japan has been that the northern and eastern parts of the Japanese archipelago are more earthquake-prone than the western half. Earthquake preparations have traditionally been more extensive in those regions.

Update hourly