How Tokyo is coping 72 hours after the quake

How Tokyo is coping 72 hours after the quake

Controlled chaos downtown as Tokyoites stock up on food and prepare for days of travel turmoil and power cuts
Supermarkets in Tokyo are jammed with shoppers sweeping the shelves clean of daily necessities.

The scene in Tokyo is almost surreal today, close to 72 hours after the earthquake and tsunami that rocked northern Japan. The sun is shining and the temperature is warm.

It's a beautiful spring day. But aftershocks continue, transit lines are snarled with those attempting to make it downtown for work, and supermarkets are jammed with shoppers grabbing as many staples as they can carry. 

In Inokashira park, salarymen who had given up on making the trip downtown sat glumly on benches. Meanwhile, local markets are sold out of basic foods such as milk, rice, bread, and eggs by as early as 10 a.m.

Many outlying train lines are closed down, and even train lines in the downtown area are running on compressed schedules.

In an unheard-of measure, many stations instituted queues and quotas to prevent the platforms from being overwhelmed.

The scene is one of controlled chaos.

earthquakeSalarymen unable to get to work on Monday passed the morning in a park instead.earthquakeStation conductors held up signs directing commuters to queues heading west (away from Tokyo) and east (towards Tokyo) in a bid to avoid congestion.earthquakeAt a suburban Toyko supermarket, the shelves are swept clean of bread and other staples.

The queues have died down in the suburbs, but hub stations such as Shinjuku remain extremely crowded, and a major crush is expected as commuters turn around to return home this evening.

There is talk of many offices telling workers to stay home over the next few days to alleviate the situation.

While social order is far from breaking down and citizens are politely lining up at stations and markets, there is a palpable sense of apprehension in the air.

Still, Tokyoites are taking a grin-and-bear-it attitude, knowing the inconveniences they are experiencing pale in comparison to the conditions up north, which remain nearly apocalyptic in some areas.

Although casualties and damage were light in the capital city, extensive damage to power plants in the quake zone has caused the demand for electricity to outstrip supply.

Japan is divided into two main power grids. The western grid runs at 60Hz (similar to Europe); the eastern runs at 50Hz (similar to the US).

The technical issues involved in converting between the frequencies means that the unaffected western grid cannot top off the eastern one, which is straining in the wake of losing so many power plants in the earthquake.

Because of this, on Sunday night, the government announced a rolling blackout plan in which east Japan would be divided into five groups that would experience planned power outages in turn.

Perhaps due to the warm spring day, with Tokyo temperatures around 20 C, demand remains low enough that the blackouts have been postponed for the time being.

The government says that the power conservation measures will remain in effect until more plants can be brought online -- at least until the end of April.