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CNN Today

Kobe, Japan Struggles to Recover From Devastating 1999 Earthquake

Aired January 17, 2000 - 2:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It was five years ago today that a massive earthquake struck Kobe, Japan, reducing the port city to flaming rubble.

CNN Tokyo bureau chief Marina Kamimura takes a look back at the devastation and how the city still is struggling to recover.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN TOKYO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): They lit candles and offered prayers -- a silent moment at the precise time the quake struck five years ago, killing thousands. It rumbled through Kobe and the surrounding area at 5:46 in the morning. Today, there are tributes all across Japan, attended by dignitaries and survivors who rebuilt the city from broken pieces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I used to think often about dying, but after going through this memorial service, I'll try harder to live.

KAMIMURA: Kobe's come a long way since then. Busy highways once again straddle the city center; the port restored from smashed ruins to state-of-the-art facilities.

But beyond the gleaming new structures, the healing process is far from over. Economically, polls indicate business is back to pre- quake levels at less than one in three Kobe-based companies. Emotionally, scars run even deeper. Despite Japan's status as one of the world's wealthiest countries, some left homeless by the quake were still living in temporary shelters less than a month before the five- year anniversary.

Seizou Nagao lost his wife and mother to the quake. He blames authorities for not doing enough to help the most vulnerable, especially the weak and the elderly.

SEIZOU NAGAO, EARTHQUAKE VICTIM (through translator): When the quake happened, of course it was a natural disaster. But as the years have gone by, it's turned into a human disaster.

KAMIMURA: In other areas, there has been more tangible progress. Billions of dollars have been spent improving rescue operations, criticized for their inability to deal with the quake's effects. (on camera): But Japan was also criticized then for its slow response to the crisis. Since 1995, central and regional governments have revised their crisis-management plans. But experts say Japan may still have problems coordinating emergency efforts, something that may only become clear when they're put to the test again.

Marina Kamimura, CNN, Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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