Chaos in the capital as residents seek escape routes home

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As night fell, Tokyo’s streets were jammed with cars, buses and lorries trying to get around and out of the city. Pedestrians swarmed the pavements to walk home, or at least find a warm place to spend the night as the temperatures dropped.

Tomoko Suzuki and her elderly mother stood on a crowded city centre corner, unable to get to their 29th-floor condominium because the lift wasn’t working. They unsuccessfully tried to hail a taxi to a relative’s house and couldn’t find a hotel room.

“We are so cold,” said Suzuki. “We really don’t know what to do.”

A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in the city of Ichihara and burned out of control with 30-metre (100ft) flames whipping into the sky.

“Our initial assessment indicates that there has already been enormous damage,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. “We will make maximum relief effort based on that assessment.”

He said the Defence Ministry was sending troops to the hardest-hit region. A utility aircraft and several helicopters were on the way.