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Kobe, JapanReturn
A water-filled crack splits an asphalt road. In the background, vehicles are heaped in a jumbled pile, and a huge crane has collapsed from the earthquake's force.
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Date: January 17, 1995, 5:46 a.m.
Magnitude: 6.8
Dead: More than 5,500

On the first anniversary of the Northridge, California, earthquake, this major Japanese port town was struck by a temblor that left more than 5,500 people dead and nearly 300,000 homeless.

Traditional Japanese building methods—post-and-beam constructions with heavy tile roofs—left many homes vulnerable, and much of Kobe was built on the worst possible soil for quake: very soft, uncompacted dirt and fill. When stirred by the quake's shock waves, this soil turned into quicksand-like soup.

Kobe's port, built on artificial islands made of fill, suffered massive damage. Buildings toppled sideways, and huge cranes fell into the harbor. Shipping worldwide was hampered for months.

The quake also destroyed or severely damaged most of the city's lifelines—highways, railways, and bridges—and debris choked its streets. Firefighters could not reach most of the approximately 150 fires that broke out after the quake, and many sections of the city burned to the ground. Calm winds kept the fires from spreading and consuming all of Kobe.

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