Tokyo: Thousands gathered on Monday to remember more than 6,400 victims of the huge earthquake that devastated Kobe in 1995, amid warnings Japan was overdue another major quake.
More than 5,000 people gathered in the western port city of Kobe to mark the 16th anniversary of the disaster, when a 7.2-magnitude quake hit at 5:46 am on January 17, 1995, killing 6,434 people.
Survivors and the family members of victims gathered before dawn to lay bouquets and offer prayers in a park used as an evacuation centre after the quake.
The quake buried residents in flattened buildings, uprooted highway overpasses and train tracks, while fires raged through collapsed timber houses and acrid smoke darkened the sky.
Heavy damage to the harbour area, where nearly all of the 300 shipping berths were destroyed, dealt a severe blow to the city`s economy, triggering a population exodus over the following months and years.
The human and economic toll highlighted a lack of preparedness and served as a wake-up call for the authorities to better ready citizens for earthquakes.
Japan is hit by an average of 1,500 earthquakes of varying strength every year.
Japanese broadcasters and newspapers on Monday reminded citizens of the high probability of another big quake, with geologists saying a major event is overdue.
Tectonics experts have warned of a 70 percent chance that the "Big One" -- a magnitude-seven earthquake or worse -- will strike the greater Tokyo region, home to around 35 million people, within the next 30 years.
The last time a monster quake struck Tokyo was in 1923, when the Great Kanto Earthquake and the fires that followed claimed more than 140,000 lives.
Previously, the Ansei Edo quake devastated the city in 1855.