JAPAN: WHEN KOBE DIED

FOR A WHILE, JAPAN BELIEVED IT HAD MADE ITSELF QUAKEPROOF. THAT NATION'S FAITH WAS SHATTERED IN 20 SECONDS, AS A 7.2 TREMOR RAVAGED ITS SIXTH LARGEST CITY, COLLAPSING HOUSES, WRECKING ROADWAYS, IGNITING FIRES

Every year on Sept. 1, on the anniversary of the 1923 earthquake that took 143,000 lives in Tokyo and Yokohama, the Japanese observe national Disaster Prevention Day. All over the archipelago, schoolchildren rehearse running through tunnels of smoke with handkerchiefs covering their faces; the military practices helicopter rescues. In countless towns and cities, fire departments roll out their earthquake-simulation machines. These room-size boxes, equipped with a table, two chairs, a bookshelf, a gas cooking stove and a kerosene heater on a wooden floor, are set on shock absorbers and shudder exactly like an earthquake, escalating in force from 3 to 7...

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