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Japan lost in tsunami

The ferocious tsunami swept away boats, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control.

world Updated: Mar 12, 2011 01:49 IST

Japan's huge earthquake brought super-modern Tokyo to a standstill Friday, paralyzing trains that normally run like clockwork and stranding hordes of commuters carrying mobile phones rendered largely useless by widespread outages.

The magnitude-8.9 quake off Japan's northeastern coast shook buildings in the capital, left millions of homes across Japan without electricity, shut down mobile phone network and severely disrupted landline telephone service. It brought the train system to a halt, choking a daily commuter flow of more than 10 million people.

"This is the kind of earthquake that hits once every 100 years," said restaurant worker Akira Tanaka, 54. He gave up waiting for trains to resume and decided, for his first time ever, to set off on foot for his home 12 miles north of the capital. "I've been walking an hour and 10 minutes, still have about three hours to go," he said.

Tokyo prides itself on being an orderly, technologically savvy, even futuristic city. Residents have long daily commutes and usually can rely on a huge, criss-crossing network of train and subway lines.

Tens of thousands of people milled at train stations and were preparing to spend the night at 24-hour cafes and hotels.

Phone lines were crammed, preventing some calls and text messages from getting through. Calls to northeastern Japan, where a 23-foot tsunami washed ashore after the quake, often failed to go through, with a recording saying the area's lines were busy.

Koto Fujikawa, 28, was riding a monorail when the quake hit and had to later pick her way along narrow, elevated tracks to the nearest station."I thought I was going to die," she said. "It felt like the whole structure was collapsing."