Most houses and commercial structures that went up after 1980, when Japan's building code had its last major revision, are still standing. But more than 80,000 older buildings suffered serious damage. The government has promised tougher standards for new buildings, but the immediate challenge is how to improve existing structures. Says Charles Scawthorn, vice president of EQE International, a San Francisco firm that specializes in quake-resistant engineering: ``This is the real heart of the seismic-hazard problem.''

Scawthorn happened to be in Osaka when the quake hit and spent the next several days surveying the damage in Kobe. What he saw...

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