“C’mon earthquakes happen almost every single day in Japan! What makes this one special?”, you ask? Read on and you’ll know!
I don’t want to wake up like that ever again
It was early in the morning on Saturday (April 13th, 2013). I was deeply asleep when suddenly I was woken up by my smartphone’s disaster alarm, a loud alarm outside and some terrible shaking! Immediately I was awake and jumped out of bed!
I saw one of my big shelves shaking like crazy while things kept falling down from it.
My heart was beating very fast and I wasn’t sure what to do: “Should I run over to the shelf to catch the items that are about to fall down or should I hide somewhere?”
I rushed under my room’s door frame, just hoping that the shaking would stop!
My body was probably shaking more than the room and the loud alarms were just adding to the scary atmosphere.
After a few seconds everything around me finally calmed down.
Immediately I ran to my laptop to find out what had happened. I wanted to know where the epicenter was, how strong the quake was and if there was a tsunami warning.
As I don’t have a TV or radio, the internet was my only option.
And then I saw it:
M6.3 quake hits Awaji Island
Click on the image for a detailed map.
Map source: tenki.jp
The epicenter was near Awaji Island, a small island not too far from Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture.
It had a magnitude of 6 (M6.3) on most of Awaji Island and M4 in many areas of Hyogo and Osaka Prefectures. As you can see the earthquake could be felt even in Kyushu!
The great Hanshin Earthquake – Round 2?
What makes this earthquake special and what shocked many people is that the epicenter was just a few kilometers away from that of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Back then parts of Awaji Island and Kobe were severely damaged and over 6000 people lost their lives.
The Hanshin Earthquake had a magnitude of 7.2 and is considered to be one of the most destructive earthquakes in Japan in modern times besides the big one in March 2011 (M9) and the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 (M7.9).
Between yesterday’s earthquake and the destructive Hanshin Earthquake there are more similarities than just the location of the epicenter!
It also happened at almost the exact same time! Yesterday’s quake hit at 5:33am, the Hanshin one shook people awake at 5:46am! The magnitude levels weren’t that different either! M6.3 (2013) vs. M7.2* (1995)! (*I’m using the JMA scale for all of these.)
However, the “earthquake’s nature” was completely different. Co-workers told me that the Hanshin quake shook the earth vertically (up and down) whereas this time it was a horizontal quake (shaking from side to side). I’m no expert, so I can’t tell what kind of movement causes more damage.
Because of all these similarities a lot of people were in a state of shock as they remembered what happened back in 1995 and were afraid the same would happen again. An official was so confused(?) that he sent out a missile alert instead of an earthquake alert!
Luckily the infrastructure, the architecture, the alarm systems and security standards have improved a lot in the past 18 years. While a few houses were damaged, there was no major destruction. Around 24 people were reported to be injured, nobody died.
In many parts of Kansai trains stopped for a few hours to undergo security checks, but resumed service later that day. A few households, mainly on Awaji Island, were without gas, water and / or electricity for a while.
Map source: Yahoo Japan
There were a lot of aftershocks on April 13th, but none of them was really strong enough to cause any additional damage. Officials said that there might be more aftershocks within the next few days, so people should stay alert.
Every time I felt an aftershock I froze and my heart was beating faster. Nobody could be sure if the big one in the morning was just a foreshock or already the “real thing”.
Misbelief: Japanese people are used to quakes
I know that people who live in the Kanto or Tohoku regions find this probably rather amusing, but people around here (Western Japan) aren’t necessarily used to stronger earthquakes! Most of my students said it was their first “real” earthquake! For me it was also the first real quake experience since I moved to Japan over 5 years ago!
I think it’s a great misbelief that all Japanese people are used to quakes. Of course, they grow up being aware of the omnipresent danger and they have drills and safety lessons in kindergarten and school, but most of them have never really experienced a strong earthquake!
I lived in Western Chugoku area previously and even the elderly had no noteworthy earthquake experience. I remember that one of my female co-workers jumped under a table when the earth was suddenly shaking for just a few seconds. I didn’t even realize that it was an earthquake and just stared at her, asking what she was doing under the table. And yes, she’s Japanese!
Will Japan be safe in the near future?
It seems that this time there was only minor damage. We were lucky, but who knows when the next big one will hit … and where?
Just recently Russian experts said they predict a strong earthquake in Japan by the end of 2014. (*that didn’t happen)
Scientists say that Mt. Fuji might erupt by 2015. (*luckily that didn’t happen either)
Tokai earthquakes happen every 100-150 years, so the next one is already due – people are expecting it to happen soon.
Despite all that I’d still say it’s safe enough to come to Japan!
How about you?
- Have you ever experienced an earthquake?
- How strong was it?
- What happened exactly and how did you deal with it?