Capital that normally runs like clockwork is brought to an eerie standstill

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ULTRA-modern Tokyo was left shaken and paralysed yesterday following the massive earthquake which struck some 300 miles away off Japan’s north-east coast.

The series of huge tremors shook buildings in the capital, left millions of homes without electricity, shut down the mobile phone network and severely disrupted landline telephone service.

Perhaps uniquely, the quake also brought Tokyo’s sprawling and clockwork-like train system to a complete 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, setting off on the long walk back to his home some 20 miles away.

Tens of thousands of people were left stranded in the capital, faced with the choice of an journey on foot or a night on the streets. Vast numbers of commuters milled at train stations, roamed the streets or hunkered down at 24-hour cafes and hotels.

Mobile phone calls were disrupted by crammed networks which also prevented nearly all text messages.

Calls to stricken parts of north-eastern Japan generally failed to go through, with a recording saying the area’s lines were busy.

Unable to rely on their mobile phones, people formed lines at Tokyo’s normally vacant public phone booths dotting the city.

Emergency phone lines and a special internet site were set up for people to leave messages for family and friends.

Up to 90 per cent of calls were being restricted to prevent telecom equipment from being overloaded, a spokeswoman for telecoms firm NTT said. The company was checking on damage to towers and cables.

Superfast bullet trains, commuter trains and subways all were shut down. A handful of subway lines finally resumed service after a six-hour outage, and officials said they would run all night, past their usual hours.

City officials offered government offices, university campuses and other locations for stranded commuters to spend the night.

The Tokyo suburb of Yokohama offered blankets for people who wanted to sleep at the community’s main concert hall.

“There has never been a big earthquake like this, when all the railways stopped – and so this is a first for us,” Yokohama Arena official Hideharu Terada said. “People are trickling in. They are all calm.”