Photo/IllutrationMany of these high-rise buildings around Osaka Station, seen here from aboard an Asahi Shimbun helicopter in March 2018, have high-rise elevator systems. (Yoshinori Mizuno)

Residents of apartment buildings were forced to endure severe inconveniences when elevators were left out of service in many buildings for several days following the major earthquake of June 18.

The quake, which measured up to a lower 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in northern Osaka Prefecture, highlighted the issue of people being stranded due to inoperable elevators in urban areas following strong earthquakes.

In the five prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara and Shiga, which sustained significant damage from the earthquake, 66,000 elevators, or about half of all those in service, were brought to an emergency stop, according to figures of the land ministry and the Japan Elevator Association.

A total of 339 people were stuck in them temporarily, more than in the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

Elevators have functions for stopping automatically to ensure safety when strong shocks are detected. They can be brought back to operation only after inspection by an engineer from the manufacturer because the ropes on which the elevator car is suspended may have been left entangled.

Mitsubishi Electric Building Techno-Service Co., a major elevator maintenance company, supervises 60,000 elevators in the Kansai region. Of those, 22,000 went out of service on June 18, and they were roughly located in areas where the shocks measured at least a lower 5 in seismic intensity.

About 1,000 engineers, who work for the company’s offices in the Kansai region, immediately divided up their roles in making the rounds of buildings. It was, however, only three days after the earthquake that all elevators were back in service.

“We use ‘human wave’ tactics, so we cannot help that it takes us time,” said a Mitsubishi Electric Building Techno-Service representative.

Officials of competitors, including Hitachi Building Systems Co. and Fujitec Co., also said it took their companies three days or so to bring all their elevators back in service.

Osaka’s Kita Ward, where the shocks registered a lower 6 in seismic intensity, and Osaka’s Nishi Ward are home to a large number of high-rise apartment buildings.

One woman, who said she lives on the 12th floor of a 14-story apartment building, was seen having a hard time walking up and down the stairs with her infant. In another case, a co-op shop deliverer was seen carrying vegetables and frozen foods up another apartment building, which has 20 stories.

The Japan Elevator Association has defined the order of priority for bringing halted elevators back in operation. The top priority is for those with people confined inside, followed by those in hospitals and other emergency facilities. Third in line are those in public facilities operated by local governments and other parties, and in fourth place are those in high-rise buildings that stand 60 meters or taller. All those in other buildings are fixed after the others.

The larger the areas affected, the longer it could take before all elevators are brought back into service. That could make it difficult for some people, including the sick, to go outdoors even if they live in low-rise buildings.

It therefore appears essential to always have a stock of several days’ worth of daily essentials, such as water and food, household by household and floor by floor in the case of an apartment building.