Japan Quake: Tokyo Hit by ATM Failures, Power Outages, as Gold Rises

Citizens look for cash, food, gold or passports as nuclear crisis continues

Beset by rolling power blackouts and ATM failures, Tokyo’s citizens sought supplies of rice, cash, and gold or applied for passports to leave Japan on Thursday.

Reuters reported that airports were crowded and some Mizuho Bank ATMs failed under the weight of transactions as many in Tokyo tried either to leave the country or to set aside stores of food, cash and precious metals.

The Tokyo Passport Center in the Yurakucho district, on the second floor of its building, was faced with lines that stretched all the way to the first floor as people sought to find a way to escape the threat of radiation. Airports were thronged by people without tickets who were nonetheless hopeful of finding a way to safety; the U.S. was reportedly sending in planes to evacuate American citizens.

Mizuho Bank said that the ATM failures were due to a concentration of transactions at some unidentified branches. ATMs were out of commission for almost two hours earlier in the day, and again in the evening. Customers were also unable to make foreign currency withdrawals and other transactions. The bank’s shares closed down 1.46% on the day’s trading.

Gold, however, rose in Tokyo. The premium on gold bars rose as high as $2 an ounce in the beleaguered city, which was largely quiet and uncharacteristically dark, its neon signs falling prey to power outages and to voluntary cuts in power usage from businesses that allowed employees to remain at home. Many schools were also closed. Banri Kaieda, Japan’s trade minister, said that unexpected, large-scale power outages were possible but unlikely as the nation struggled to maintain its remaining power supply.

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