BRUSSELS, Belgium-As life returned to some sense of normalcy following the devastating Jan. 17 earthquake which struck the city of Kobe, Japan, Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. (SRI) began transferring all manufacturing operations away from the stricken area. The company's Kobe golf ball factory, technical center and tire plant suffered serious damage, but most of Sumitomo's main headquarters survived untouched.
Other area tire and rubber product makers-Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. in Itami, Inoue Rubber Co. in Ikeda, Nippon Giant Tire Co. Ltd. in Tatsuno, and Ohtsu Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. in Izumi Ohtsu-escaped relatively unscathed.
Katsutoshi Hirabayashi, chairman of Sumitomo Rubber Europe, said the company is still investigating the extent of the damage and planning its recovery.
SRI is the only tire maker in the area to report fatalities among its employees. Four workers died at their homes, the company said.
In addition to its golf ball operations, Sumitomo Rubber, parent of U.S.-based Dunlop Tire Corp., is also moving all tire production away from Kobe to its Nagoya plant, with production due to start in March.
Mr. Hirabayashi said much of the equipment in the Kobe tire plant was undamaged, and this would be transferred to Nagoya.
The Kobe tire plant represents only 10 percent of SRI's domestic production, and the company said the temporary loss in production would not seriously affect it.
More potentially damaging is the indefinite closure of SRI's new technical center on the main Kobe site. The extent of the damage-both inside the building and to computer records-is unknown.
In the short term, Mr. Hirabayashi said on-going projects will be transferred to the company's other tech centers in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Germany.