“Saints in Kobe Rally after Quake,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 74–75
Church members and others in Kobe, Japan, are recovering from a January 17 earthquake that rocked the area, killed more than 5,000 people, injured another 26,000, and left 300,000 homeless.
“The local Church leaders and members have been marvelous,” reported Elder David E. Sorensen of the Seventy and president of the Asia North Area. “The people are extremely patient and stoic in their suffering. We have not seen any form of rioting or lawlessness. Everything is orderly, even though some of the people are still living in schools and tents and makeshift shelters.”
The earthquake, Japan’s deadliest in the last seventy years, registered 7.2 on the Richter scale and struck in the early morning hours, damaging almost 56,000 buildings and destroying more than 20,000 homes. There was no serious structural damage to any Church buildings, and two Church meetinghouses were used as shelters for members and others. The Japan Kobe Mission home was used as a center for preparing meals.
One member, 76-year-old Kimiko Nagai, and her nonmember husband, Kozo, were killed in the quake. Two children of an investigator family were also killed. Members cared for the family, and a memorial service for the children was held in the Kobe Ward meetinghouse.
Thirty-five member families were left homeless by the disaster. Within two weeks, all but five of those had found homes with either Church members or friends or families, Elder Sorensen reported. “In some cases we realigned our missionary quarters,” he noted. “We’re working on finding housing for the others as well.”
Elder Sorensen had high praise for the local members, especially local Church leaders and the sisters. Japan Kobe Stake president Tsutomu Donomoto and Kenji Takagi, bishop of the Kobe Ward, “are the laboring oars in this great humanitarian effort,” he noted. Sisters in the area carried water, prepared food, and took care of the children.
Some of the first assistance arrived from Fukuchiyama district president Yasufumi Kadowaki, who delivered basic supplies to the area and hauled water in his own truck for several days after the quake hit. Because of broken water lines, water was one of the greatest needs in the area. Within a few days, truckloads of food and other needed items were delivered from neighboring wards, stakes, and the Fukuchiyama district.
Church volunteers took shifts around the clock to unload trucks, inventory supplies, assess needs, and deliver the items. Most of those deliveries were done by bicycle, motorcycle, or on foot. The hardest hit area of the quake is only a fifteen-minute walk from the Kobe meetinghouse.
After reporting to mission leaders, missionaries in the area immediately began doing what they could to help. In addition to helping distribute food and water and tracking down members and investigators, one of the most significant contributions they made was simply providing a listening ear.
After several days, members and missionaries also began helping as much as possible in cleanup efforts. One bishop in Osaka received approval from the city and organized a group of missionaries to assist throughout the area. “Local members will also be joining them from time to time,” Elder Sorensen noted.
Both Elder Sorensen and President Curtis P. Wilson of the Japan Kobe Mission noted the tolerance and concern of the Japanese people. In the few stores that hadn’t been damaged or destroyed, people stood patiently in orderly lines. When people who had purchased food and supplies saw the length of the lines, they returned some of their purchases so others would have enough. “This is typical of these people,” President Wilson noted.
Offers of assistance have been pouring in, noted Elder Sorensen. Particularly touching, he said, was the gift of thirty woolen blankets from the Relief Society sisters in a Northridge, California, ward, who had suffered an earthquake exactly one year earlier.
“We’ve received phone calls, letters, and faxes from concerned Saints in other areas of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and various places in the United States. There’s been a great outpouring of concern and sympathy and love,” Elder Sorensen said.
The earthquake caused the heaviest damage in Kobe, a port city of 1.4 million people. However, Japan’s second-largest city, Osaka, which is located across the bay, also sustained heavy damage.