Kobe Paralyzed; Toll Hits 2,014 : 120,000 Seek Refuge, 1,058 Missing in Quake : Japan: Aftershocks and fires continue in port city where roads, rail lines and utilities are ruptured. Assurances about safety of modern construction technology are shattered.
The western port city of Kobe remained virtually paralyzed today in the wake of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people, sent as many as 120,000 seeking refuge and laid waste to assurances that modern construction technology protects city dwellers in Japan from major seismic damage.
In what Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama called Japan’s most devastating tremor since the Great Tokyo Earthquake of 1923, police today put the death toll at 2,014, with 1,058 missing and 11,977 injured. Most of the dead perished in their homes as the quake struck shortly before dawn Tuesday.
Hundreds of aftershocks continued all day Tuesday and into this morning. Injuries were reported in 13 prefectures, or states.
Railway, water, gas, telephone and electricity lines were ruptured. Damaged tollways were also closed, and roads leading into the disaster area were clogged with traffic or closed off by police. More than 120,000 people sought shelter overnight in cars, parks, public buildings and unheated school gymnasiums as the temperature dropped below freezing.
Early today, authorities discovered a leak in one of three 20,000-ton liquid petroleum gas storage tanks on Rokko Island off Kobe and urged 70,000 residents in two districts of the city of 1.5 million people to leave their homes.
Residents of Rokko and another man-made island were left isolated by damage to bridges linking them to the main section of Kobe. The Asia headquarters of Proctor & Gamble is located on Rokko Island.
The Meteorological Agency announced that the earthquake caused an 18-centimeter lateral movement of earth, the biggest it had ever detected.
No serious earthquake had struck any major Japanese urban center since 1948, when a 7.3-magnitude quake in the prefecture of Fukui killed 3,895 people.
Estimates of material damage Tuesday were in the tens of billions of dollars. In a news conference televised nationwide, Murayama pledged the government’s full efforts to restore normality to Kobe and its environs.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi said Murayama will visit the devastated area Thursday. He also said the government will employ rescue and recovery techniques that its Construction Ministry experts learned in Los Angeles while studying the Northridge earthquake that occurred one year ago to the day.
The victims included at least one American. Bonnie Wong, 24, of Van Nuys was killed in Ashiya, a small town a few miles from Kobe, where she was working as a private tutor, the woman’s father said Tuesday night.
Henry K. Wong said his daughter had been in Japan since Jan. 5 of last year.
“She missed the Northridge quake, but apparently she didn’t miss this one,” he said.
A U.S. Embassy official said an estimated 10,000 Americans live in the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto area.
On Tuesday, 2,300 army troops were dispatched to help rescue about 1,000 people believed to be trapped in the debris of collapsed buildings. An additional 10,700 soldiers were scheduled to be sent today, the Defense Agency said. Soldiers were distributing box lunches, instant noodles and fresh water.
More than 1,000 firefighters were dispatched from 75 cities as far away as Tokyo, 270 miles east-northeast of Kobe.
Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. installed emergency telephones on tables on sidewalks in several locations in the disaster area to enable residents to call relatives and friends.
And American help was on its way, President Clinton announced Tuesday in Northridge, which he visited to mark the anniversary of the 6.7-magnitude quake.
“I have ordered a high-level team that includes representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Transportation to leave for Japan shortly to see if anything we learned here can be helpful to them there,” he said.
Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, happened to be in Japan at the time of the quake, and, Clinton said, “he has already stated that our military forces are also available to help them in any appropriate way.”
Murayama, after a phone conversation with Clinton, welcomed the experts’ mission but declined to accept help from the American troops.
More than 11,500 buildings were severely damaged or destroyed in the quake. Fires that continued to burn into the morning of the second day leveled entire blocks of Kobe, as firefighters were forced to pump water from rivers. In addition to the storage tank trouble, gas leaks were reported at 1,400 locations. Landslides occurred in rural, mountainous areas nearby.
Although the biggest area of fire devastation--a swath of about six city blocks--contained wooden homes built after the end of World War II half a century ago, fires also erupted in steel-and-concrete buildings.
First floors were squashed in both wooden homes and multistory steel-and-concrete buildings. At one hospital in Kobe, the fifth floor was crushed, initially trapping 37 patients and nurses. Four remained in the ruins into the night.
At a collapsed apartment building in Kobe, rescue workers threw ropes around survivors trapped on upper floors and lowered them to safety. One woman emerged clutching her cat. “I was wondering when they would come and rescue me. I was so worried,” she said. “But I was talking to my cat and said we would survive until someone came to help us.”
Moments later, her elderly mother was brought from the building on a stretcher.
Elevated expressways and railways, including the 130-m.p.h. Tokyo-Fukuoka bullet train, were closed down by cave-ins and ruptures. Tuesday was the first time since the Bullet Line started operations in 1964 that the super-speed railway had been crippled. Trains from Tokyo were operating only as far as Kyoto, on one end. Service from Fukuoka on Kyushu Island was available only to Okayama on the other end.
The earthquake struck at 5:46 a.m. Tuesday, 14 minutes before the Bullet Line trains was to start daily runs that normally transport 360,000 passengers.
Twelve other trains derailed on elevated sections of track, and at least one station collapsed, wiping out an access street beneath it.
But there were no reports of subway damage, and nearby domestic and international airports continued to operate.
The Transportation Ministry in Tokyo asked Japan’s three major airlines to add flights from Tokyo to points beyond Osaka to plug partially the gap in the key national transportation network. Repairs to extend the operating portion of the line from Tokyo to Osaka were expected to take about a week, but the rest of the disruption could continue for at least two months, railway officials said.
TV stations, urging people throughout the country to refrain from making telephone calls to the devastated area to facilitate emergency communications, broadcast live news of the earthquake continuously Tuesday and early today. Newspapers throughout the country published extra editions.
In Nara and Kyoto, both ancient capitals of Japan, statues of Buddha designated as national treasures in three temples suffered minor damage. Cracks appeared in five temples in Kyoto.
Even in Tokyo, the emotional impact of Tuesday’s quake was severe because of the implications for widespread damage that a similar earthquake might produce here. No major quake has hit Japan’s capital since the city lifted limits on building height in the early 1960s. Unlike Kobe, Tokyo has dozens of skyscrapers.
Moreover, in the wake of the Northridge temblor, officials of the national government’s Public Road Corp. assured citizens that Japan’s expressways had been built to withstand even a quake as monstrous as the 8.3-magnitude earthquake of 1923 that killed more than 100,000 people in Tokyo and environs. Destruction suffered by Los Angeles expressways, they claimed, could not occur in Japan.
On Tuesday, officials of the corporation, admitting their error, acknowledged that Tokyo expressways were constructed with the same technology used in the elevated tollways in the Kobe region, which ruptured at 12 locations. One stretch of 1,650 feet of elevated freeway flipped on its side at a 45-degree angle.
Reconstruction of expressways and railways was expected to take months, even under the most rushed of building schedules.
Toshi Asada, a seismology professor at Tokai University, described Tuesday’s quake as an “inland type” in which a tectonic plate underneath Japan slipped slightly into a geological fault beneath the archipelago. It was unrelated to undersea quakes with magnitudes of 6.9 and 4.2 that struck a separate set of tectonic plates near Hachinohe, 325 miles north of Tokyo, nine days earlier, he said.
The Kobe temblor shook an unusually broad area--a 60-mile radius--because its epicenter at Awaji Island, 20 miles from Kobe, was at the intersection of a large number of faults, according to Minoru Kasahara, a Hokkaido University associate professor.
Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this report.
* RELATED STORIES: A8, B1, D1, D4
* AWAITING WORD: O.C. residents with relatives in Japan spent an anxious day. B1
* VALLEY VICTIM: A Van Nuys woman is reportedly the lone American casualty in the Japan quake. A8