March 11 Earthquake and the condition of Tokyo

Aoyama Cemetary, March 12

The initial quake hit early on a Friday afternoon while many people were working. Tokyo’s 23 Wards recorded a Shindo Level of 5-upper. Click here to read about the Japanese seismic sales.

Immediately after the quake, shopowners and local residents went to check on each other. Many officeworkers had vacated their buildings and were waiting on the streets when a strong aftershock hit about 30 minutes later.

The shaking was severe so it is a testament to the construction of the buildings in Tokyo that they withstood such shaking without suffering serious damage. While I have not seen any signs of damage or even broken glass in the central Tokyo area, there are reports of damage and injuries.

6 deaths reported in Tokyo

Kudan Kaikan Hall in Chiyoda-ku had a ceiling collapse, causing 2 fatalities and 34 injuries.

Kudan Kaikan Hall

Toxic gas (trichloroethylene) was released in a factory in Koto-ku, killing 2 workers.

The carpark ramp at Costco in Machida City, Tokyo, collapsed trapping people in cars and killing 1 woman.

Costco, Machida City

A total of 32 fires were reported from the initial quake on Friday afternoon until Saturday morning at 1am.

The top of Tokyo Tower has bent and has affected television signals. Tokyo Sky Tree was not damaged.

Tokyo Tower

Service Interruptions

Cellphone services were down and lines were forming outside of public phones.

Train services stopped, but have since resumed and on Saturday were operating at a 30~50% capacity. Many people had no choice but to walk home from their offices on Friday evening. The footpaths were congested with people facing a long journey home.

Waiting for train services to resume

Highways were closed.

Narita and Haneda airports temporarily closed.

Less than half of the retail stores and boutiques were open on Saturday, but almost all are open on Sunday. Shops and streets in Shibuya are full of shoppers.

Electricity outages were reported in Kanagawa Prefecture and Machida City. In central Tokyo, electricity, water and gas did not seem to be affected.

Rolling blackouts are scheduled for Tokyo in order to conserve power, but most of Tokyo’s 23 wards will be exempt.

Announcements in Japanese and English were broadcast over loudspeakers to encourage people to conserve electricity. The lights on Tokyo Tower and Rainbow Bridge will be switched off.

World City Towers in Konan, Minato-ku

It was reported that 40-storey residential building “World City Towers” which houses over 5,000 residents had some cracks in walls and in marble floors, but no significant damage. As the elevators automatically shut off, many of the residents who were outside at the time of the quake slept in the lobby overnight until elevators were operating again.

World City Towers

Tokyo Big Sight

The Tokyo Big Sight convention center in Koto-ku suffered structural damage and is closed (Video from inside here).

Tokyo Big Sight

The supermarkets I visited did not have many shoppers, and stock levels were high, but the convenience stores had been stripped of pastries, bentos, water and beer. Due to heavy traffic, the food delivery trucks have not been on time and re-stocking is difficult.

Elevators have an automatic shut-off feature for earthquakes so many people had to use the stairs to return home.

Part of central Tokyo, including popular expat areas Akasaka, Roppongi, Omotesando and Chiyoda-ku, is located on bedrock which reduces the effects of earthquakes. Other low-lying areas towards the bay, including Azabujuban/Mita are on softer soil, so the shaking is amplified. In Edo times, the bay area towards the front of the Imperial Palace grounds was part of Tokyo bay and ships used to be able to sail up to the Palace.

Mori Building, a major developer, only build developments on safe bedrock and will not build anything from Azabu Juban down to the bay.

The Nikkei Shimbun, March 11, 2011.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2011.

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