Store shelves empty in Tokyo as uncertainty reigns

TOKYO Mon Mar 14, 2011 6:04am EDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Commuters and residents of the Japanese capital faced confusion and uncertainty on Monday over the supply of food and energy after Friday's devastating quake and tsunami which crippled a nuclear power plant.

Some store shelves were emptied and many train lines were shut down as Tokyo commuters returned to work after a weekend glued to horrific images of the extensive damage about 150 miles to the north.

In the largely residential Nerima district of Yokyo, staples like rice, bread and instant noodles were sold out. Lights were kept off on the produce shelves and meat refrigeration units to conserve electricity.

"About 40 to 50 people were lined up outside when we opened at 10. A day's worth of food sold out in an hour. We had a second shipment delivered at midday and that sold out in an hour too," said Toshiro Imai, a store manager in Tokyo.

"Part of the factory of one of our suppliers is damaged so stock is limited."

Tsutomu Yamane, a manager of a branch at the Tokyo metropolitan government that oversees retailers, said officials were trying to assess the situation.

"A food shortage is difficult to handle from an administrative view," he said. "But what we can do is try and prevent retailers from cornering the market or hoarding goods (to raise prices)."

Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Sunday called this Japan's worst crisis since World War II, and the mood has also been darkened by news reports quoting experts as saying there is a 70 percent chance of another damaging tremor by Wednesday.

More than 100 commuter train lines in the Tokyo area were scheduled to be partially or completely closed on Monday.

Several calls to East Japan Railways Co, the largest train operator in the country, went unanswered due to high call volume, according to a recording.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) began a rolling blackout on Monday in Tokyo and surrounding cities to conserve energy amid the crisis at nuclear power plants in the earthquake-affected areas.

Broadcaster NHK showed an aerial view of Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, which was black except for dots of lights from cars.

(Additional reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Nick Macfie)