A raised construction crane on a barge moving downriver hit high tension lines Monday morning in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, causing blackouts in the capital and neighboring prefectures for nearly three hours that brought rush-hour transportation to a halt.
The power failure, which occurred at about 7:38 a.m., affected approximately 1.39 million households and offices in areas that included Ota, Setagaya and Minato wards as well as parts of Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Tepco managed to reroute its electricity supply to Tokyo from other facilities, and power was restored to all affected areas by 10:44 a.m., the utility said.
According to the Chiba Prefectural Police, the barge operated by Mikuniya Kensetsu, an Ibaraki Prefecture-based construction firm, was on its way to a dredging operation when it raised its crane up 33 meters while being moved down the Old Edo River.
The crane then made contact with the power lines, which transmit 275,000 volts from Chiba Prefecture to Tokyo.
“We didn’t realize there was a power line,” the barge operator reportedly said.
Tepco said the massive blackout occurred because a backup power supply cable was also damaged in the accident.
The mishap caused numerous delays across the transport network.
East Japan Railway Co. said the Keiyo Line, which runs from Tokyo to Soga, Chiba Prefecture, stopped running. More than 19,000 commuters were affected by the halt, which lasted approximately 20 minutes.
Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Yurikamome, or the Yurikamome Line, halted for three hours. Some of its commuters were forced to get off a train and walk along the Rainbow Bridge to the next station.
The Ginza, Tozai and Toei Shinjuku subway lines halted services for about an hour.
Tokyo Metro Co., the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Transportation Bureau and Tokyu Corp. reported that a combined 254,000 commuters were affected by the blackout.
Takahiko Tanaka, who commutes from Edogawa Ward to Chiyoda Ward, said he was about half an hour late for work because the Tozai Line had stopped.
“There were so many people waiting at Nishi Kasai Station that officials had to limit the number of people coming through the ticket gate,” Tanaka said. “I managed to get on and waited on the train for about 20 minutes before services started again.”
He suggested that subway and surface railways seek ways to continue operations in the event of a blackout, including installing their own backup power generators.
A 31-year-old company employee who got caught up in the blackout at Tameikesanno Station said she had to walk from that station instead of changing trains on her way to work in Roppongi. She arrived 30 minutes late, but she was lucky because her office was only one station away.
“Since there was no information on when the train service would resume, I thought I’d walk, but it would have been a lot more trouble if the office wasn’t within walking distance,” said the woman, who asked not to be named.
The Metropolitan Police Department announced that traffic lights stopped working in at least 440 locations in the Tokyo area, although no accidents were reported during the power failure. All traffic lights were back on again by 8:30 a.m.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency received 71 emergency calls from areas affected by the incident, mainly reporting halted elevators and other problems resulting from the power failure.
No serious injuries were reported.
Maki Tanaka, who was still at home in Koto Ward at the time of the blackout, said she became frightened because she did not know what was going on.
Tanaka, 31, tried to get information on her cell phone because that was the only way she could get word from the outside world.
“The television wasn’t working so I had no idea whether it was a terrorist attack, a blackout or just a problem with the condominium building,” she said.
Tokyo Disney Resorts in Maihama, Chiba Prefecture, which was expecting 100,000 visitors Monday, delayed the opening time by 52 minutes to check the safety of the attractions.
Some rides were still not in service as of noon due to checkups.
The last time an accident caused a blackout on a comparable scale was in 1999, when an Air Self-Defense Force training plane crashed into and cut a power line in Saitama Prefecture, leaving 800,000 households without electricity, Tepco said.
Information from Kyodo News added
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