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Rolling blackouts to affect lifelines, transportation, medical needs

by Natsuko Fukue

Tokyo Electric Power Co. started rationing power throughout much of the Kanto plain on Monday to prevent a nuclear power plant crisis in Fukushima Prefecture from causing a complete blackout of the Tokyo metropolitan region and surrounding areas.

The prefectures affected include Tokyo, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Yamanashi and the eastern half of Shizuoka.

Tepco is dividing the nine prefectures into five groups that will each lose power for about three hours at a time.

Following are basic questions and answers on how the rolling blackouts will affect the public:

How will the outage affect water supply?

The Health, Labor and Welfare ministry said there is a chance water will be shut off if local waterworks bureaus lack power generators. Local governments and waterworks bureaus will alert residents to the possibility, and affected areas are advised to secure adequate supplies for each outage.

What will happen to medical facilities?

Major hospitals have their own power generators, but small clinics might be compromised, the health ministry said. Hospitals are being urged to check their power generators and secure enough fuel to operate medical equipment.

Securing adequate battery power for home-use respirators is also strongly advised. The endurance of each artificial respirator varies by model, and some won’t last the three hours needed to make it through the blackouts. Those caring for people who use such devices are therefore urged to prepare spare batteries and CPR bags. Those who do not have these items should immediately contact local health centers or local governments to borrow them.

Does the outage affect transportation?

Yes. Trains operated by Japan Railway Group and other companies decided Monday to decrease some trains and cancel others.

As for flights, both international and domestic flights are scheduled to run as usual, according to Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. International flights, however, may start facing delays from Monday, their websites say. Flight delay and cancellation information will be updated online.

As for the highways, Metropolitan Expressway Co., East Nippon Expressway Co. and Central Nippon Expressway Co. are open. According to their websites, the Electric Toll Collection system will work even during the outages. The lights along the highways, however, will be off and lights in tunnels will be dimmed.

How about traffic lights?

It is possible all traffic lights in areas experiencing power rationing will be turned off. The government is considering deploying police at major intersections. The Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation Ministry said railroad crossings may also be affected.

Can ATMs be used?

Three major banks — Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd., Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and Mizuho Bank Ltd. — will operate ATMs that can run on generators. Japan Post Service Co. announced Monday that it will stop operating 477 ATMs outside post offices in nine prefectures.

What will happen to convenience stores?

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is going to shift to emergency power generators, but only for lights and cash registers, not freezers. If a blackout happens at night, Lawson Inc. and FamilyMart Co. will close at those times.

Will the Internet and telephones work?

Fixed-line telephones that need to be plugged in will probably be inoperable. It is also possible that Internet access will be difficult because modems will be affected.