Photo/Illutration A woman prays before bamboo lanterns at Kobe East Park in Kobe on Jan. 17. (The Asahi Shimbun)

KOBE--Mourners on Jan. 17 prayed for victims of the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake 26 years ago as many remembrance ceremonies were scaled back and preventive measures taken due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The earthquake claimed 6,434 lives, mainly in Hyogo Prefecture, one of the prefectures now under the COVID-19 state of emergency.

At Kobe East Park in Kobe’s Chuo Ward, an annual memorial ceremony started a day earlier to prevent close contact among participants.

About 8,000 bamboo and paper lanterns, arranged to form the characters for “Ganbaro” (Let’s hang in there together), were lit up at 5:46 p.m., exactly 12 hours to the time the temblor struck, and mourners offered prayers.

“I am usually here on the morning of Jan. 17, but I chose to come the day before to avoid a crowded place,” said Teruko Kirihata, 81, from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, whose home was destroyed by the quake.

Visitors also offered silent prayers at 5:46 a.m. on Jan. 17.

Special guests did not offer their remarks before visitors this year. Instead, the speeches of Kobe Mayor Kizo Hisamoto and representatives of bereaved families were posted on the city’s website in videos or texts.

Visitors had their temperatures taken at the park entrance. Disinfectant was available in many places at the venue. Flower stands were not set up this year.