Japan earthquake disrupts Tokyo, leaves capital only lightly damaged

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Earthquake damage to Tokyo was light compared with the devastated swaths of northeastern territory, but the record 8.9 temblor brought the Japanese capital to a standstill after authorities closed off highways, halted rail traffic and idled Narita International Airport.

Tokyo’s subway system, the world’s busiest carrying 8 million passengers each day, was closed for six hours after the worst earthquake in the country’s recorded history struck the island nation just before rush hour at 2:46 p.m. local time Friday. Minimal service resumed on two key lines after inspections of subterranean passageways revealed no significant damage, but the vast majority of commuters remained stranded overnight.

Photos: Scenes from the earthquake


East Japan Railway Company also shut all rail traffic out of the capital over concerns for damaged track and debris strewn along coastal lines by the tsunami waves that swept in as deep as 6 miles in some northeast areas.

Japanese television networks showed scenes from Narita airport terminals carpeted with stranded travelers sitting cross-legged on the floor and vainly pecking away at cellphones and other communications devices cut off by nationwide network disruptions.

Videos of the earthquake

The nation’s two biggest air carriers, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, reported that they had canceled nearly 300 flights on which 60,000 passengers were booked.

As dawn approached Saturday morning in the Japanese capital, it remained unclear how long the transport disruptions would continue to paralyze the Asian economic powerhouse.