Futuristic city brought to standstill
JAPAN'S huge earthquake brought super-modern Tokyo to a standstill yesterday, paralysing trains that normally run like clockwork and stranding hordes of commuters carrying mobile phones rendered largely useless by widespread outages.
The 8.9-magnitude quake off Japan's north-eastern coast shook buildings in the capital, left millions of homes across the country without electricity, shut down the mobile phone network and severely disrupted landlines. It brought Tokyo's train system to a halt, choking a daily commuter flow of more than 10 million.
"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 to set off on foot for his home, 12 miles 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 can usually 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 cancelled nearly all train services for the day.
Tens of thousands of people milled at train stations, roamed the 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 north-eastern Japan, where a 23-ft 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. Osamu Akiya (46) was working in his Tokyo trading company's office when the quake sent bookshelves and computers crashing to the floor and opened cracks in the walls.
"I've been through many earthquakes, but I've never felt anything like this," he said.