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Post-quake blackout sends Sapporo, surrounding areas into chaos

A residential area is covered in mud brought up by cracks in the road after a large earthquake, in the Satozuka district of Sapporo's Kiyota Ward, on Sept. 6, 2018. (Mainichi)

SAPPORO -- This city's population of 1.96 million people was thrown into chaos after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck in the early hours of Sept. 6, causing power outages in the city and across Hokkaido in northern Japan.

Police officers directed traffic in the prefectural capital as traffic signals remained dark, and cars slowly moved along the roads. Railways also came to a halt, and many people headed to work and other locations on foot.

Naomi Tanaka, a 25-year-old bank employee in Sapporo's Kita Ward, said, "I was contacted by my company at around 6 a.m. and told to come in early, and I walked here from my house, but with the traffic lights out, it was frightening. There were also aftershocks. I am worried about what will happen at work."

In front of the ticket gates at JR Sapporo Station, the only dull lighting was from emergency lights. With the electronic signboards carrying information about train arrivals and departures out, a whiteboard scribbled with the words, "All train services in all directions have been suspended due to the earthquake," was placed in front of the gates. Nearby, travelers carrying big bags and other items gathered, and station staff worked to accommodate them.

On a trip with his classmates since Sept. 3, 21-year-old Keigo Moriya, a student at Kindai University in Osaka Prefecture explained, "The trip was supposed to be three days and two nights, but because of the typhoon, Kansai International Airport shut down, and we hastily changed our return flight." With a lost expression, he continued, "We looked for somewhere to stay, but we can't find anything, so we have no choice but to wait here."

"Because of the blackout, the system is down and we can't take reservations," a worker at a hotel located by the north gates of JR Sapporo Station said. "It's really quite a mess."

The Sapporo Municipal Subway also halted services. A 25-year-old man from the city's Higashi Ward said with a tired expression, "I walked over 30 minutes to come here because the subway was stopped. We have to contact our employees, but I don't know if I can use my email."

Without power, residents faced an uneasy morning. A 35-year-old housewife in Sapporo's Chuo Ward was unable to prepare breakfast, so she left the house at around 6 a.m. to buy rice balls or bread to eat. However, rounding one convenience store after another, she found that everything was sold out.

"Even the traffic signals are out, it was scary," she said. "I've already used up the power in my portable mobile phone charger. It's unnerving that when my phone dies, I will have no way of gathering information."

At the Tsukisamu store of electronics giant Yamada Denki in Sapporo's Toyohira Ward, residents hoping to buy household and other items lined up. Many customers were after batteries, portable chargers for smartphones, handheld radios, disposable diapers and other crucial items. Yuko Kawamura, 41, a resident of Toyohira Ward said with relief, "It looks like I will be able to at least buy batteries and water."

In the residential area of Satozuka in Sapporo's Kiyota Ward, sections of houses and roads had caved in. Huge cracks split roads, and many buildings were left leaning to one side. According to one Satozuka resident, 69-year-old Toshio Tateyama, the area used to be a swamp and sits on reclaimed land. Nearby, water had come up and sections of the road were covered in mud. In one section of the district, the mud on the roads was several dozen centimeters deep, burying car tires and fallen bicycles.

"As soon as the earthquake happened, I ran outside and a large amount of mud came spilling down the hill," said local resident Isao Homma, 74.

At a transport company in Kiyota Ward, three shipment containers and other debris were washed a distance of 150 meters by a landslide that swept across the ground. A male employee, 49, who arrived at the scene around 5 a.m. said, "I was able to get into the office, but it is so clogged with mud that I can't open the shutters. I'm so shocked that I am at a loss for words."

According to the Sapporo Municipal Government, the water pipes that connect to a drainage pond in Kiyota Ward have ruptured, and a total of roughly 15,000 homes in Kiyota and Atsubetsu wards are without running water. The water outages extend to other areas, and the municipal government is setting up water stations in each area.

Meanwhile, at New Chitose Airport Terminal in Chitose, Hokkaido, all flights have been canceled, and most of the terminal building has been closed off. A portion of the first-floor arrivals lobby remains open to accommodate stranded travelers.

On a visit to Hokkaido with his wife, 42-year-old Shingo Soma from Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, arrived at Chitose by taxi from Sapporo. As the vehicle approached the terminal building, he spotted a worker holding a loudspeaker. He said the employee explained that because of the extent of the damage, it was difficult to guarantee safety, so the airport had been shut down, and there was little chance that any planes would fly that day.

"We were staying on the ninth floor of a hotel in Sapporo, and it shook like it was going to collapse. It was terrifying," Soma explained. "We planned to return home via Narita Airport, but the trains are stopped and we can't book a hotel. The only thing we can do is stay here and wait for the power to come back on."

Throughout Hokkaido, the economic sector has been heavily affected, with many factories halting operations and stores closing their doors. Toyota Motor Corp. has halted production of automobile parts at its subsidiary in the city of Tomakomai south of Sapporo, and paper manufacturers Oji Holdings Corp. and Nippon Paper Industries Co. have closed both their factories and offices in the prefecture. A small fire broke out for a period of time at Mitsubishi Steel Mororan Inc. Muroran Works in the city of Mororan in southern Hokkaido, and production there was also stopped.

Lawson Inc. has closed roughly 300 convenience stores, close to half of their total Hokkaido outlets. Japan Post Co. has also stopped accepting "Yu-pack" parcels addressed to locations in Hokkaido.

(Japanese original by Junichi Tsuchiya and Yoshimasa Abe, Hokkaido News Department Chitose Airport Office, and Mikako Yokoyama, Business News Department)

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