TOKYO -- Electricity was cut to hundreds of thousands of homes, businesses and hospitals in the Kanto region Tuesday as rolling power outages went ahead as planned, on the second day of an emergency effort to cope with a massive power shortage.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. launched the blackouts after Friday's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami crippled several power plants and left the utility scrambling to meet demand.
About 700,000 households in 27 cities and towns in Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures had their power cut for about three hours from about 6:50 a.m. Tuesday, the first time the electricity supply was cut in TEPCO's service area.
Police officers were stationed to direct traffic at intersections where traffic lights were rendered useless.
TEPCO has divided its service area into five "groups" that will be subject to rolling power cuts for periods of up to three hours. The 27 cities and towns affected by the first blackout -- including Yokosuka and Zushi in Kanagawa Prefecture; parts of Saitama, Ageo and Okegawa in Saitama Prefecture; Tatebayashi and Ota in Gunma Prefecture; and Tochigi, Kanuma and Ashikaga in Tochigi Prefecture -- are part of Group 3.
Group 4 -- which includes 15 cities and towns in Saitama, Gunma and Tochigi prefectures -- was next to be affected as the power went out from about 10 a.m. About 240,000 households were affected for as long as three hours.
From about 1 p.m. for up to three hours, power was cut to Group 5, which includes Matsudo, Kashiwa and Abiko in Chiba Prefecture; parts of Yokohama and Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture; and Fuji and Numazu in Shizuoka Prefecture.
TEPCO expected demand for electricity Tuesday would peak at about 37 million kilowatts between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. as people took trains home from work and turned on heaters and cooked dinner after arriving. However, TEPCO can presently only supply 33 million kilowatts, leaving a shortfall of 4 million kilowatts -- the amount of energy expected to be needed by about 1.3 million households.
TEPCO originally planned to start the cuts Monday morning, but canceled the first few outages. The cuts began in some parts of the Kanto region in the evening as power consumption peaked. However, the utility flipped the switch as planned on Tuesday morning because "power demand jumped as more people began returning to work," a TEPCO official said.
Tokyo Electric said substations used to power trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area will not be affected by blackouts. This will give rail operators more confidence that they will have enough power to keep their trains running, and ease the chaos and congestion that frustrated millions of commuters Monday as services were canceled or reduced to cope with the expected power cuts.
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