Stranded Resent Inadequacy of Official Action After Quake

By Brian Covert
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo — Residents fought against a sense of abandonment and isolation as they prepared for another cold night away from their homes in the vicinity of JR Koshienguchi Station, where major damage occurred in Tuesday’s killer quake [on January 17, 1995].

About 300 residents took shelter inside a gymnasium at Kami-Koshien Elementary School south of the train station. Some people slept in second-floor and third-floor classrooms.

Supplies of “onigiri” rice balls soon ran out and children were being given donated candy.

A volunteer in the school gymnasium said residents felt frustrated over what they see as a lack of official concern.

“Injured people went to the hospital, but were told their cases were not so serious and to return to the shelter,” he said. “One woman who did return here later died. The medical condition of some people is getting worse.”

Another shelter in the area is the Nishinomiya Municipal Kami-Koshien Community Center, where about 40 people camped out Wednesday afternoon — sleeping, reading newspapers or just waiting to return to their homes.

Outside on the streets, there was despair.

“Nishinomiya city officials aren’t even bothering to come around,” Goro Sagawa, 55, said as he watched some of his work colleagues try to remove rubble from his completely demolished wooden home.

Sagawa said all three members of his family were rescued after the quake, which threw the arched ceiling of his two-story home at least 15 meters and dumped it atop an adjacent one-story house.

He said an elderly woman and her granddaughter who lived in the house had been trapped in the debris and died.

Two Canadians who lived in the area, Vicki Keller, 40, and Sujaya Dhanvantari, 27, walked around the streets looking at some of the shocking scenes.

They said they were surprised at the extent of the damage in the surrounding neighborhoods, ranging from cracked walls and shattered windows to the complete destruction of some older houses and apartments.

“It’s completely amazing that one building can be demolished and the one right next to it left intact,” Keller said. “The aftershocks have been scary, too.”

As in many homes in the area, electricity was working but water and gas supplies had been cut. Telephone service was spotty.

“My parents phoned me about two hours after the quake at 7:15 a.m., they got through (from Canada),” Dhanvantari said.

Elsewhere, along nearby Route 2, a major thoroughfare, ambulance and fire-engine sirens could be heard continuously.

Above, helicopters apparently belonging to the Self-Defense Forces, added to the noise. The SDF began emergency rescue operations Tuesday night at a seven-story apartment and office building north of Koshienguchi Station that toppled and caught fire in the quake.

Although the fire was put out by Tuesday night, the smell of gas continued to fill the air.

On Wednesday, about 24 SDF members, police and fire officials were on hand to begin the arduous task of trying to clear away debris, using tractors and a crane.

According to residents, a few people managed to escape from the rubble.

Among those at the site was a volunteer firefighter from Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, who temporarily put aside his work to try to find out what had happened to his nephew, who lived in the building.

He said he had not come across any bodies yet or heard any sounds of people calling out for help. All the inhabitants of the building, about 30 people, are presumed dead, he said.