KOBE, Japan -- The biggest takeaway from the Great Kobe Earthquake that killed more than 6,400 people 22 years ago is to take disaster preparedness seriously.
Kobe's sewage treatment system is better able to respond should another 7.3 magnitude quake strike, according to sewage works department Assistant Manager Shogo Nakatani. The first improvement was connecting the city's four main treatment plants deep underground with large, quake-resistant pipes. That way, if one plant is knocked out, sewage can be stored in the pipes, then pumped over to the other plants.
The second change was to bring treated wastewater through the city's neighborhoods in the form of man-made streams to put out fires. In the earthquake's aftermath in 1995, 80% of the Matsumoto neighborhood was burned to the ground.
"So many people told us, 'If only we had water nearby, we wouldn't have seen our homes burned down,'" said Nakatani.
And third, the city installed disaster plumbing at elementary schools where portable toilets can hook up. The temporary toilets are stored at the schools. In the case of a disaster, people taking shelter at the school can hook up three or four portable toilets to the plumbing. Water is siphoned from the school's swimming pool to help flush the toilets.
"It's a step by step process," said Nakatani. "But you have to realize in an initial response the number of people is limited. You have to find the weaknesses of each plant ahead of time and plan on how to respond."
Lori Matsukawa is on a press tour sponsored by the City of Kobe covering earthquake preparedness, disaster response, technology, and trade.