Quake brings modern Tokyo to a standstill

A massive 8.9-magnitude quake Friday triggered a tsunami along the coastline north of Tokyo. A nuclear reactor was left unstable by the aftershocks, stoking fears of a meltdown.
The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 8:16 PM

TOKYO -- Japan's huge earthquake brought super-modern Tokyo to a standstill as it paralyzed trains that normally run like clockwork, crippled mobile phones, stranded hordes of commuters and trapped scores of people in elevators.

The magnitude-8.9 quake that struck off the coast Friday afternoon and triggered a deadly tsunami in the northeast also violently shook buildings in the capital, where halted trains choked an evening commuter flow of more than 10 million people.

"This is the kind of earthquake that hits once every 100 years," said restaurant worker Akira Tanaka, 54.

He gave up waiting for trains to resume and decided - for his first time ever - to set off on foot for his home 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of the capital. "I've been walking an hour and 10 minutes, still have about three hours to go," he said.

Tokyo prides itself on being an orderly, technologically savvy, even futuristic city. Residents usually can rely on a huge, criss-crossing network of train and subway lines. But authorities were forced to scan the entire web for quake damage and cancel nearly all trains for the rest of the day.

Tomoko Suzuki and her elderly mother were unable to get to their 29th-floor condominium because of a stalled elevator. They unsuccessfully tried to hail a taxi to a relative's house and couldn't immediately find a hotel room in their neighborhood.

"We are so cold," Suzuki said Friday evening on a crowded corner. "We really don't know what to do."

Although there were no power outages in central Tokyo, some elevators may have been damaged in the quake while some others were intentionally shut down as a precaution. Elsewhere, widespread electricity outages left millions of homes and buildings without power.

In all, 163 people were reported trapped in elevators throughout the country, the Transportation Ministry said, with 75 of them still stuck Saturday morning. It wasn't clear how many of those were in Tokyo.

Tens of thousands of people milled at the capital's train stations, roamed its streets or hunkered down at 24-hour cafes, hotels and government offices offered as emergency accommodations.

Mobile phone lines were crammed, preventing nearly all calls and text messages. Calls to northeastern Japan, where a 23-foot (7-meter) tsunami washed ashore after the quake, generally failed to go through, with a recording saying the area's lines were busy.

Unable to rely on their mobile phones, people formed lines at Tokyo's normally vacant public phone booths dotting the city.

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© 2011 The Associated Press