The Kobe earthquake occurred because the town lies on the boundary between the Philippine and Eurasian tectonic plates, which rub against each other. The Eurasian plate is lighter than the Philippine plate, so the latter moves beneath the Eurasian plate, which in the case of the Kobe resulted in a shallow-depth-of-focus earthquake that was devastating.
According to GeoResources, during the Kobe earthquake the epicentre was under a densely populated part of the region, and seismic waves traveled through the Nojima Fault to devastate the area and surrounding city. Furthermore, the earthquake ruptured gas pipes, and the ensuing fires quickly spread to the many timber-framed buildings. The earthquake's epicentre was relatively near the surface, so it had an extreme impact. The ground moved violently, and some parts liquefied.
The earthquake lasted for 20 seconds, measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale. More than 5,000 people died in the chaos, from building, bridge and road collapses to resulting fires, car accidents and winter-related deaths for the homeless. Over 300,000 people lost their homes. Even more problematic were the winter temperatures, lack of power and clean water, the destruction of communication services and a transportation system in shambles. The damage cost the Japanese government billions of dollars.