Photo/IllutrationRescue workers help people stuck in mud in Sapporo’s Kiyota Ward on Sept. 6. (Reina Kitamura)

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SAPPORO—The lives of residents in this city of 2 million were thrown into turmoil by the unfamiliar experience of life without electricity, passable roads and readily available food and supplies.

The earthquake on Sept. 6 not only knocked out power across the northern island, but it also caused soil liquefaction that destroyed many roads in the Hokkaido capital and covered them with mud.

Food and other supplies at convenience stores and supermarkets were quickly hoarded by residents fearing a prolonged shutdown of services in the aftermath of the magnitude-6.7 earthquake that struck at 3:08 a.m. in southwestern Hokkaido.

With the water supply cut off in her neighborhood, a 23-year-old woman holding her 6-month-old baby expressed fears for her family.

“There is no water coming from the tap,” she said. “I am worried that milk and diapers might soon run out.”

A 37-year-old man living in Sapporo’s Kiyota Ward was about to make a run for supplies when he was stunned by the damage caused by the quake.

Several houses were tilted. And the liquefaction had also buckled roads, leaving gaping cracks and extremely uneven surfaces. Some manhole covers jutted up from collapsed roads.

“When I was about to go out to buy something at a convenience store around 4:20 a.m., the area was already devastated like this,” the man said. “I was just so surprised because I’ve never experienced (such a powerful quake).”

Hordes of people lined up at Seven-Eleven Japan Co.’s dimly-lit Maruyama-koen Station outlet in Sapporo’s Chuo Ward before it opened at 8 a.m. on Sept. 7.

A notice at the store said: “Only products in stock inside the store. We have no plans to receive deliveries of water and other liquid items.”

The store received a delivery of 30 pieces of bread at 7:30 a.m. and limited purchases to two per customer. They were gone almost immediately, according to the store.

“Frozen foods will be discarded because they melted in the power outage,” said the 54-year-old manager of the store.

At 1:40 p.m., more than 10 hours after the earthquake struck with an intensity of a maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale, a rescue operation was under way in Sapporo’s Kiyota Ward.

Shortly after noon that day, Yasutaka Ichinose, 60, arrived at his company’s parking lot and discovered a man and a woman stuck in mud that had gushed up from the ground as a result of soil liquefaction.

Ichinose said he himself became trapped in the waist-deep mud when he tried to save the couple.

“I got stuck because the mud became heavier,” Ichinose said.

It took about three hours to pull Ichinose from the mud.

Only a few traffic signals in Sapporo were working properly on Sept. 6 because of the power outage.

At one intersection in the city, a police officer directed traffic with his arms and a whistle.

Bus operators said they had suspended operations until all traffic lights were working again.

The power outage also affected medical institutions.

Early on Sept. 6, hospitals without power started asking Sapporo City General Hospital to accept some of their patients.

Sapporo City General, which was running on an emergency power supply, eventually received five patients who were using dialysis machines or artificial ventilators.

Transportation networks were also in shambles.

Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) suspended all operations on Sept. 6, and passengers packed a muggy JR Sapporo Station in the afternoon, waiting for a resumption of services.

Many people sat on the floor near the ticket gates, collecting information on their smartphones.

A 47-year-old man who came to Sapporo from Obihiro, also in Hokkaido, on business was worried about money because he usually used credit cards and didn’t carry cash.

“Shutting down the ATMs is fatal for me,” he said. “I learned firsthand how difficult it is to live without power.”


Many foreign visitors, including tourists, had nowhere to go after checking out of their hotels in Sapporo on Sept. 6.

The Sapporo economy and tourism bureau offered them temporary shelter on the first and second floors of the Sapporo Sosei Square complex in Chuo Ward.

About 540 foreigners were seen recharging their smartphones and other gadgets while watching TV for updates on the disaster.

The quake also showed how cellphone-dependent society has become.

Many people were having trouble with their phones because of the power outage.

Mobile phone network operators set up battery-charging facilities and public wireless LAN services free of charge.

Early on Sept. 7, a long line formed at a lobby of a city government office building that was offering a free battery-charging service.

The service started at 7:45 a.m., but by 9:30 a.m., phone users had to wait in line for three hours to get their batteries charged.

They were each given 30 minutes to charge their batteries.

A 21-year-old university student from Okayama Prefecture had lined up at 8 a.m.

“I feel a bit relieved,” she said after receiving her charged mobile phone around 9:40 a.m.