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In Kobe, Tears And Tolling Bells Honor the Dead On Quake Anniversary

January 17, 1996

KOBE, Japan (AP) _ Temple bells tolled and weeping mourners laid flowers in the rubble, remembering those who died in the quake that shattered Kobe a year ago today.

Residents in one quake-wrecked neighborhood gathered in the chilly predawn darkness for silent prayer at 5:46 a.m., marking the moment the 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck.

The quake claimed more than 6,000 lives and left about 300,000 people homeless in this hilly port city 270 miles west of Tokyo.

A memorial service was held in a downtown hall, with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako among those attending.

Rows of mourners in formal black, some clutching photos of dead loved ones, faced the stage, where a stark cenotaph surrounded by thousands of white chrysanthemums read: ``To the souls of the victims.″ The choir sang a lament.

Hashimoto, who became prime minister last week, pledged his government’s support in the rebuilding effort.

``Complete reconstruction will take a long time, and the full work starts from now,″ said Hashimoto, whose predecessor Tomiichi Murayama was harshly criticized for a passive response to the quake.

Hashimoto’s government announced a day earlier it had decided in principle to finance half of a nearly $500 million redevelopment project for the city’s commercial center.

The crown prince, whose parents the emperor and empress visited Kobe soon after the quake to comfort victims, bowed deeply before the cenotaph, telling quake victims he hoped they could live peaceful lives again.

Expressions of grief and gratitude alike were quiet. Prefectural governor Toshitami Kaihara read aloud from a 5th-grade student’s essay on the quake. ``We lost so much, but we learned so much,″ the girl wrote.

Some of the bereaved delivered eulogies with tears glistening in their eyes.

``It’s the greatest tribute to the dead for those who survived to live to the fullest every day,″ said Ayako Kurosaki, whose grandmother was killed.

Many victims, though, are having trouble coping with their losses. Social workers say thousands of quake survivors are suffering from depression and stress-related ailments. Almost no one had quake insurance, and about 90,000 people are still living in temporary housing.

Mindful of anger over tardy and ineffective rescue and relief efforts, authorities staged disaster drills and tried to show they had made progress in the last year.

After the quake, broken water lines left firefighters helplessly standing by while flames raged and residents screamed for help.

Kobe spent $7.5 million for a new system to carry seawater for firefighting up to a mile away. While the memorial ceremonies were being staged, firefighters gave a demonstration of the pump engines drawing seawater for their high-pressure hoses.

In the quake-hit Kobe suburb of Nishinomiya, soldiers dug at a mock-up of a wrecked home, carried stretchers and set up a triage tent. In the capital, the Tokyo fire department mobilized 18,000 firefighters for a drill.

After the quake, many foreign residents of Kobe said they were unable to get help and follow instructions because of language problems. A new FM radio program was inaugurated today with broadcasts in six foreign languages _ Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, English and Tagalog.

The Kobe disaster left many Japanese city dwellers fearful, because it collapsed some roads and buildings that had been considered earthquake-proof. Even support pillars for the ``bullet train,″ considered a symbol of Japan’s technical prowess, fell down.

Public NHK television said it surveyed more than 1,200 people and found that 70 percent wanted the national and local governments to take tougher anti-disaster measures.