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  1. TRANSPORTATION
  1. RECONSTRUCTION OF THE HANSHIN EXPRESSWAY -- DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE

Son Killed by the Collapse of the Expressway

Elevated expressways, which had been regarded as an impregnable public construction, were also greatly damaged in the Great Hanshin Earthquake, killing 16 people.

A mother, who lost her only son, filed a suit for state compensation against the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation to bring the causes to light. She had a great suspicion of the causes of the collapse of the Hanshin Expressway, which happened in the area where the seismic intensity was only around degree five. It was only the expressway's piers that collapsed to that extent of leaving no trace of its original form in the same area. Her son was crushed to death when it happened.

Destruction of Evidence and Evasion of Responsibility

Issues brought into question in the trial included improper joining of main reinforced concrete bridge piers, concrete material of poor quality, some corner-cutting in the construction works, failure in construction supervision and, by the same token, delay in taking the earthquake-resistance measures and disaster risk management of important public construction in Japan. In the process of the trial, the lack of safety on Japan's expressways and the conduct of the corporation and the Ministry of Construction, which could only be taken as trying to destroy the evidence, were brought to light.

The then Ministry of Construction did ask some experts to conduct a quick investigation of the damaged highway bridges. They, however, did not wait for the result to come out before blockading most of the National Route 43, over which the expressway was built, on the following day of the earthquake to start the clearing and removing of the debris from the scene of the collapse.

It was quite possible to interpret that they tried to destroy evidence of the serious defect in construction, which would have been too apparent to experts.

Scrapped Raw Investigation Data

The Ministry of Construction established the Headquarters for Quake-Damaged Highway Bridge shortly after the disaster. They, however, terminated the actual investigation and examination of the causes of the damage after only about two months. Priority was given to the creation of a reconstruction manual for the expressway. The investigation was concluded by a brief report and they said that the raw data on which the report was based was immediately scrapped. They claimed in the trial that there was no problem in the supervision of construction works and quality of building materials, and that everything was due to the "earthquake motion greater than anybody could have expected". They were criticized that having scrapped the raw data which had not been examined by a third party was the destruction of evidence by the party to be responsible.

The Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation admitted that the earthquake-resistance of the Hanshin Expressway was, in fact, only to be able to withstand an earthquake of maximum intensity five, despite what they had been propagandizing -- it would withstand a great earthquake of magnitude 8.1. Then they obstinately insisted that the damage was caused by earthquake motion with a peculiar cycle, with which only reinforced concrete piers were damaged, if wooden housing or concrete-block walls were not.

Lack of Examination by a Third Party

The accuser was able to submit a certain amount of evidence to show the defects of the piers in the trial, thanks to the cooperation from conscientious scientists. The case, however, made it clear that it is essential for the judgment of public safety such as the quake-resistance of expressways to be investigated and examined by an objective third party.

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The collapsed Hanshin Expressway -- the places where the roadbed beam was of concrete structure collapsed. Possible errors in design and construction works became highly controversial. The Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation conducted works to dismantle and remove the broken expressway through night and day, utilizing a mass of civil engineering machinery. The debris quickly disappeared.

(YAMANOUCHI Yasuo)