August 14, 2006

Power outage brings rush-hour chaos in Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) - A rare power outage caused by an industrial accident plunged much of Tokyo into chaos for about three hours on Monday, darkening offices, trapping people in elevators and disrupting transport and computer systems.

The outage, caused when a construction crane on a boat hit power lines, started around 7:40 a.m. (2240 GMT on Sunday) as offices were opening and commuters were heading for work.

Power supplies were fully restored about three hours later, and most rail service returned to normal in the capital.

A spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co. Inc., which serves an area with a population of more than 30 million, said more than 1.39 million homes were affected.

Jiji news agency said there were 58 cases of stuck elevators with people trapped inside, but there were no injuries.

Traffic lights went off in at least 440 places, Kyodo news service said, while several businesses reported problems with computer systems.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange was trading as usual, but calculations of the Nikkei 225-share average were frozen by early afternoon trade due to a system error related to the power cut in a spokesman at the index compiler, Nihon Keizai Shimbun said.

Individual stock prices and a series of stock indices compiled by the Tokyo Stock Exchange, including the TOPIX index, were not affected.

Foreign exchange traders at several banks said they were unable to conduct business because of computer problems.

Tokyo subway authorities said about 120,000 passengers had been affected by the outages.

The operators of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea said the outages had forced them to delay opening their gates for about an hour.

"Most attractions did not work because of the power outage," an official said, adding that the attractions were expecting 100,000 people to attend on Monday. "In my memory we have never had this before."

Some Tokyo subway lines temporarily allowed men to ride in special "women-only" cars to ease crowding after service resumed. The special cars were introduced to spare women the aggravation of harassment from male passengers.