KOBE, Japan -- More than 20 years after the Kobe earthquake, the devastation is still hard to comprehend.

In the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial, videos, photos, and even life-size re-creations are still shocking. The 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit at 5:46 a.m. on January 17, 1995, and killed 6,434 people. Many were crushed in their beds or burned in fires that swept through entire neighborhoods.

One of the lessons that emerged from the experience was the importance of volunteers and non-governmental groups.

"At first after the earthquake, the fire and police department could not do everything," recalls 69-year-old Nanami Yoshimoto, "but the community came to help."

"They say that volunteerism in Japan began with Kobe," says City of Kobe spokesperson Louise Dendy.

For the first time in modern history, volunteers from across the country swept into Kobe over a period of years to cook, collect clothing, construct temporary housing, offer haircuts, children's activities and visit the elderly.

That's why more than 150 people - almost all of them earthquake survivors - volunteer at the Earthquake Memorial, which is also called the "Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution."
They are on a mission to teach residents how to prepare for an earthquake or other disasters: What to have packed, where to find safety and how to reinforce their homes.

She and scientists believe in the next 30 years, the Nankai Trough could trigger a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. It could generate a tsunami 34 meters high that would devastate Japan's southeastern shore.

"We cannot stop Nature," says Yoshimoto, "but we can be prepared and reduce the destruction."