Chaos erupts as rolling power outages begin

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Report

Tokyo Electric Power Co. started cutting electricity to some areas Monday evening in an unprecedented effort to sustain power in the capital after Friday’s Tohoku megaquake crippled a key nuclear power facility.

The emergency plan, announced late Sunday, threw commuters into confusion. Many arrived at train stations early only to find that the scheduled morning and afternoon outages had been canceled. The railroads, however, had already reduced service in anticipation, creating huge commuter logjams.

The rolling blackouts started at 5 p.m. in parts of what Tepco calls Group 5 — a wide area covering Chiba, Ibaraki, Yamanashi, Shizuoka and five other prefectures — and lasted until 7 p.m., covering a critical period when power consumption peaks.

The zone also includes some 330,000 households in a number of municipalities in the Kanto region, including Yokohama and Kawasaki.

The postponement of the morning and afternoon outages was prompted by lower-than-expected demand as the government urged the nation to unplug unnecessary appliances and save energy.

To make up for the power shortage being caused by the nuclear crisis, Tokyo and eight other prefectures have been divided into five groups, each of which could experience electricity outages lasting three to six hours on a rotating basis, the utility said. A power outage had been planned from 6:20 a.m. in the first of the five groups.

Despite the postponement of the morning blackouts, train services were significantly disrupted throughout the day after railways canceled many operations as a pre-emptive measure to avert chaos.

Railways warned that Monday’s disorder may continue well into April, and as long as Tepco continues its rolling power outages.

A spokeswoman for Keio Electric Railway Co. said its operations Monday were limited to about 50 percent of a usual weekday, while some areas, including the stations west of Chofu, went out of service in the morning and the evening.

“Regarding our operations from tomorrow, it will all depend on how Tepco will proceed with the blackouts,” the spokeswoman said, adding there is a possibility the zoning for power outages could be modified by the electricity provider as well.

Because train operations are interlinked with electricity supply from Tepco, it is unlikely regular operations will resume until the rolling blackouts end. That is expected at the end of April at this point.

A spokesman for Tokyo Metro Co. echoed this view, saying chaos may continue for a while. The subway operator said it was able to cover only about 40 percent of its schedule in the morning, but eventually had about 80 percent of scheduled trains in operation.