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Woman Survives 2 Major Quakes : Disasters: Noriko Kokame says Kobe temblor is reminiscent of the Northridge event she lived through a year ago.

January 19, 1995|MAKI BECKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a period of a little more than a year, Noriko Kokame has survived two of the most destructive earthquakes in the last decade.

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When a massive earthquake shook her home Tuesday in Nara, Japan, a two-hour drive from the devastation in Kobe, Kokame said she couldn't help but be reminded of the Northridge quake that she lived through a year ago.

In a telephone interview, she recalled how she had arrived in Los Angeles late the night of Jan. 16, 1994, after a trip back to Japan for the holidays.

Unable to sleep from jet lag, she was lying awake, restless in her apartment near the Cal State Northridge campus, where she was a senior, when the 6.7-magnitude quake hit.

"I was screaming. Everything fell: plates, bottles of sesame oil, cooking sake, shoyu (soy sauce)," Kokame said.

After graduating from CSUN last summer, Kokame went back to live in Nara, but made a visit to California over the holidays. Kokame had just gotten back to Japan less than two weeks before the latest quake.

"Everywhere I go, there are earthquakes!" she said.

Comparing the two major disasters, Kokame, 24, said she was much more frightened by the Northridge tremor. "I was so surprised. I had never experienced an earthquake before," she said.

Although Tokyo and parts of northern Japan are often struck by major quakes, the Kansai or southern region historically has had little seismic activity.

"Japanese people aren't used to earthquakes in Kansai" and were totally unprepared for the major disaster that occurred in Kobe and neighboring cities, Kokame said.

"The people in Northridge were so much smarter. They stayed inside and waited for instructions," she recalled.

"But people here, they are so upset," Kokame said. "They can't use the trains or subways, so everybody is driving. Firefighters can't get through. All we can do is watch the fires on TV."

The city of Nara withstood the actual earthquake, but Kokame said there is no gas or water at her home and the phone works only sporadically. She has not been able to contact any of her friends who live in Kobe.

In addition, she said fights are breaking out at stores as people scramble to buy water and food, of which, she said, there is very little.

But since the trains in her area are working, Kokame opted the day after the quake to commute to Osaka to go to school, where she is studying to be a translator.

"I experienced the L. A. riots, fires and the earthquake," she said. "So, I'm not really scared by this."

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