Down but not out: Disparities remain despite progress in reconstruction.
KOBE-It has been 10 years to the day since the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck the city of Kobe and parts of Hyogo Prefecture, killing 6,433 people and damaging 250,000 homes and buildings.
Walking today's streets in the affected areas, there is little sign of the degree of devastation caused by the Jan. 17, 1995 temblor.
But the books of local governments and businesses here paint a bleaker picture of a still-struggling economy.
Reconstruction has come at a cost, even with a reviving population.
The city of Kobe, which saw 4,564 deaths, seems back on track population-wise.
An October 1995 census showed around 100,000 fewer people in the city in the aftermath of the quake. By November 2003, city officials estimated the population to be back around 1.52 million-the same level as before the earthquake.
However, local disparities remain.
In Nishi Ward, for example, the population is now 20 percent larger than before the disaster, while in Nagata Ward, which was gutted by earthquake-triggered fires, it is still down 20 percent.
The number of people living in Nagata Ward's Misuga-Higashi district, in particular, is just 40 percent of its prequake level.
Among the 10 cities and 10 towns in Hyogo Prefecture that took a battering, the population fell by 140,000 immediately after the temblor. That trend has since reversed. In 2001, the population was estimated at 3.58 million, slightly higher than in 1994.
On top of that, 100,000 new housing starts were each recorded in fiscal 1995 and 1996. By fiscal 2003, starts totaled more than 600,000.
Education board officials found that between 1996 and 1999, about 4,000 students required special care for emotional strain.
That figure started to plunge in 2000 and stood at around 1,900 in 2003.
Economic figures tell another story, however.
The gross product index in the quake-hit autonomies, calculated against a benchmark of 100 in fiscal 1993, stood at 95.6 in fiscal 1994.
It rose above 100 for fiscal 1995 to 1997 on demand related to reconstruction, but in a sluggish economy it has failed to maintain that level.
Repayment of public bonds issued in the years following the quake has kept local governments in the red.(IHT/Asahi: January 17,2005)