Thousands roam Tokyo streets, railway stations

 People walk on railway tracks as commuter train services were stopped in Funabashi city, suburban Tokyo, on Friday. AFPThe magnitude-8.9 temblor off Japan’s northeastern coast shook buildings in the capital, left millions of homes across Japan without electricity, shut down the mobile phone network and severely disrupted landline telephone service. It brought train system to a halt, paralysing the daily commuter flow of more than 10 million people.
Akira Tanaka, 54, a restaurant worker, was among those who just gave up and decided to walk home —to suburban Saitama, 20 km north of Tokyo, an endeavour he has never tackled before.

“I’ve been walking an hour and 10 minutes, still have about three hours to go,” he said. “This is the kind of earthquake that hits once every 100 years.”

Phone lines were crammed, preventing some calls and messaging from getting through. Calls to northeastern Japan, where a 7-metre tsunami washed ashore after the quake, often failed to go through, with a recording saying the area’s lines were busy.

Unable to rely on their mobile phones, lines of people formed at the normally vacant public phone booths dotting the city. Japan’s top telecommunications company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp set up an emergency phone line and a special Internet site for people to leave messages for families and friends to inform them of their safety.

Tokyo commuter trains and subways, as well as the superfast bullet trains, all shut down, according to East Japan Railway Co. A handful of subway lines resumed service, but only after six hours.

Some hours after the quake, people continued to pack stations, hoping that train services will start again. Trains in Tokyo run like clockwork and when they have temporary problems, they usually resume serivces within an hour. But the company announced late in the day that services would not resume for the rest of the day, sending crowds pouring into the streets.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano advised commuters to stay where they were to avoid injuries. But people flooded train stations and stood in long lines for cabs, trying to find a way home.

Yokohama Arena, a concert hall in a Tokyo suburb, near a major bullet-train station, which handles not only Tokyo commuters but travel throughout Japan, was offered as an emergency place to stay overnight.

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