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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

News photo
Less is more: Passengers crowd the ticket gate Monday morning at JR Kichijoji Station on the Chuo Line, where services were reduced due to expected power outages. KYODO PHOTO

Commuters confused by outages

Train runs cut, store shelves empty, gas pumps dry as residents prepare for darkness


Staff writer

Effects of Friday's earthquake-tsunami double-punch in the Tohoku region remained tangible Monday in Tokyo as commuters tried to get back to work but were faced with closed train lines, empty store shelves and looming electricity shutdowns.

News photo
Supply disruptions: An employee at an Eneos gas station in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, posts a sign Monday saying the station is sold out. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

"This is the first time since I was in high school that I rode my bicycle in the morning. . . . I still have to cross two rivers to get to work," said Hidemi Yokozawa, an office worker traveling to Chiyoda Ward.

The Edogawa Ward resident, in her 30s, said she left home early expecting the usual Monday morning commuter rush. But she never made it to the ticket gate, with people flooding the entrance to Toei Shinjuku Line's Funabori Station.

All four Toei subway lines saw massive delays, with some only running one train per hour due to the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s request to cut down electricity use.

East Japan Railway Co. reduced the number of trains in operation drastically to about 20 percent of the usual schedule, while completely shutting down services in some lines, including Tokaido Line and Keiyo Line.

"I am trying to get to Ueno but I might have to walk from Asakusa," a woman in her 40s, who asked to remain anonymous, said at a bus station in Koto Ward. While in line an aftershock rattled light poles by the stop, which hit magnitude 6.2 at its epicenter off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture. "I have no idea what is going on; everything seems to be falling apart," she said.

Later in the day some railways, including the Keikyu Line, opted to shut down all operations as well.

But the government was under criticism after the scheduled temporary power outages, which forced the train delay and service suspensions, were not carried out.

"I realize there is criticism that not having the (scheduled) power outages means the plan only brought out confusion," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said during a news conference Monday.

"I can only apologize and ask for the understanding of the public," the government's top spokesman added, stressing that cooperation from the railway companies nevertheless did help in reducing power use.

Meanwhile, those who rolled out their cars to get to work still faced serious traffic, in addition to being told at some gas stations that they were sold out.

JX Nippon Oil and Energy Co. said it hasn't been able to reopen two refineries affected by the earthquake, resulting in shortage of stock in its Eneos branch gas stations. The company released a statement that it will "take some time" until operations get back to normal.

"I didn't expect the earthquake to affect supply of gasoline at gas stands in Tokyo," Enoki, a driver in his 50s who declined to give his first name, said. He was the third in line at a gas stand in Minato Ward, which already posted a sign that said they had ran out of gas.

"If the subways are not in operation and gasoline is not available, maybe I will need to take the bus to work," he said.

The ripples of the earthquake was also visible in convenience stores and supermarkets, which saw a shortage of supply on their shelves Monday following the shutdown of distribution routes.

A Seven-Eleven convenience store in Chuo Ward put out a letter of apology saying it did not have any products in the deli corner, including sandwiches and rice balls.

"We do not know when the distribution line will get back to normal. Because the factories in the Tohoku region are all down, we are asking other factories in other parts of the country to back them up," a spokesman for FamilyMart Co. said.

FamilyMart reduced electricity consumption in most of its 8,200 stores nationwide beginning Sunday afternoon to answer calls from the government to cut power usage. Shutting off signboards and other unnecessary equipment will save about 75,000 kw per hour, they said.

"We are not being optimistic or pessimistic. At this point we are doing what we can, the best way we can," the spokesman said.


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