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Education And Debate

What happened to elderly people in the great Hanshin earthquake

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 02 November 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1133
  1. Noritoshi Tanida, lecturera
  1. a Japanese Society for Hospice and Home Care, Department of Internal Medicine 4, Hyogo College of Medicine, 1–1 Mukogawacho Nishinomiya, Hyogo 663, Japan
  • Accepted 7 August 1996

The great Hanshin earthquake on 17 January 1995 hit the elderly population of an urban society particularly hard. More than half of the fatalities were among those over 60 years old, and in this age group female fatalities were almost double those of men. Surviving elderly people were largely left to their own devices and became relegated to the marginal space in shelters. Elderly people tended not to proclaim their problems, and so their suffering tended to be underestimated. Again, as survivors rebuilt their homes and moved back, elderly people and other vulnerable groups tended to be left behind in temporary accommodation. This tragedy has shown that special attention and continuous care is necessary for elderly and vulnerable people after such disasters.

The great Hanshin earthquake

On 17 January 1995 the great Hanshin earthquake devastated an area 20 km long and 1 km wide, causing heavy damage to Kobe and nearby cities in Japan (table 1). There were nearly 1.6 million inhabitants in this heavily damaged area, and the immediate victims included 5502 dead and 41 527 wounded. By December 1995, the earthquake related death toll amounted to a total of 6308. A total of 394 440 houses were damaged, 100 282 were completely demolished and 108 402 damaged beyond repair. At the time of maximum evacuation, 23 January 1995, there were 317 000 evacuees and 1150 shelters. Up to 49 681 temporary houses had been constructed by 28 August 1995. This earthquake turned out to be the worst natural disaster in terms of its effect on elderly people, and the suffering of elderly people seemed to be different from that in previous disasters.1 2 This paper describes what happened to elderly people in this earthquake.

View this table:
Table 1

Sufferers of the great Hanshin earthquake in Kobe and nearby cities

What happened to elderly people FATALITIES FROM THE EARTHQUAKE

According to the 1990 census, people …

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