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Power outage alert in Japan amid quake damage, cold weather

TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s government alerted people of potential blackouts in the Tokyo region yesterday because power supplies were low after several coal-fired plants temporarily stopped generating electricity following last week’s earthquake.

The rare alert, calling on households and companies to conserve power, comes as the Tokyo region is facing snow and unusually cold weather for early spring, prompting the use of heaters.

The 7.4-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Fukushima last Wednesday killed four people and injured more than 230 others, while reminding people of the deadly March 2011 quake and tsunami that killed thousands, triggered a nuclear disaster and devastated northeastern Japan’s coast.

Last week’s quake caused temporary power outages, peaking at two million homes in Tokyo and eight other areas, as the coal-fired plants in the region serviced by the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings assessed and repaired damage.

Power has been restored since, but the grid was being severely strained by the unusual snow and cold, officials said.

By midafternoon, the conservation effort was not enough to avoid blackouts, Economy and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda said.

Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport has partially turned off lights and air conditioning at terminals. Amusement parks and some companies in the region also switched to their backup generators to help in the conservation efforts.

Yesterday marked the end of Japan’s COVID-19 restrictions nationwide as infections showed signs of slowing, and restaurants were to return to normal service hours, but guests might have to eat in dim lights.

Without further power conservation, blackouts in large areas would be inevitable, Hagiuda warned, and asked department stores, supermarkets and convenience stores to turn off neon signs and urged manufacturing factories to also conserve power as much as they can.

A man walks in a snowy rain in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP