Major Earthquake and Tsunami impact Tokyo Disney Resort (incl. UPDATE #1-5)

As widely covered in all media Japan was hit by a major earthquake (after the latest updates measured as 8.9 on the Richter scala) at 2:46 pm local time today which then caused a significant tsunami with the main wave measuring about 10 meter according to first reports. The earthquake is currently considered to be the strongest earthquake measured in the history of Japan.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located about 400 kilometer north east of Tokyo in the sea, but could be felt throughout the nation. At the time this post is prepared aftershocks are still affecting major parts of Japan. Only minutes after the earthquake already caused mass damage throughout the nation at least two major tsunami waves flooded the shores reaching between several hundred meters or even a kilometer onto land (in river deltas even several kilometers!), pulling amongst others countless cars and hundreds of houses out into the open sea when receding again and causing massive damage as well.

Certainly the earthquake also impacted the Tokyo Disney Resort. According to an AFP reported on the website ABS CBN news about 69,000 guests were on-property in both parks at the time the earthquake hit. In the meantime both parks have been closed and evacuation procedures have been initiated. There are no reported injuries in the resort. Also at this time no information concerning any specific damages to structures of the resort are available, even though according to Allan Littaye’s post on Disney and More: “Lots of structural damage in both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea“. However, he also relayed a short report from MiceChat member JoeInJpn who was in the American Waterfront section of Tokyo DisneySeas when the earthquake hit: “In this part of TDS, lots of people shaken up but no one hurt. No visible damage anywhere.”

On the other hand Steve Davison (currently in the resort for the rehearsal of the upcoming “Fantasmic!” spectacular in TDS) tweeted two photos – one showing people waiting outside Ikspiari (the shopping center of TDR) and one showing damage in the resort (note the Disneyland Hotel in the far background). The same damage is also seen on a picture posted by Mr. DAPS from a slightly different angle (check out his coverage of the events at the resort including conversation via twitter on his website). It seems the damage happened to some structure next to an access to a parking or drop-off area. On his fan page on facebook Steve Davison stated: “Rehearsal for Fantasmic tonight has been canceled due to the earthquakes here in Japan. It was crazy. The team is fine here. A little shaken up but doing fine. The parks have shut down.

Early reports indicated that the tsunami (while not flooding Tokyo DisneySEA that is located behind a shore road and a high berm on a landfill in a former bay) had flooded the resort’s main parking lot (which is not protected by the berm). According to an report by AFP on the Deccan Chronicle this proved incorrect. The local police instead confirmed that the instead of having been flooded the parking lot had been partially drenched with water-logged segments  due to “soil liquefaction”. I.e. due to the huge pressure and shaking by the earthquake the ground lost its normal stability and behaved like a fluid and then covered / “flooded” parts of the parking lot (a more detailed explanation of this effect can be found on wikipedia). An aerial shot of the parking lot and its partial “flooding” (taken off tv coverage) has been posted on a DISboard thread covering the events at TDR. Note that a major part of the “flooding” on the parking lot seems to be located close to the monorail track in the top right corner on the photo. Considering the additional stress / pressure which the monorail beams cause on the ground this seems logic. This may also impact the return of the monorail service.

Various photos taken by guests (and some cast members?) inside the parks have been posted online as well showing how the guests were seated in open areas away from the buildings after the earthquake hit – e.g. the photos posted by Mr. DAPS via TwitPic of guests in Tomorrowland and outside Pirate’s of the Caribbean. This is a regular safety measure in light of the risk of undetected damages to the buildings and ongoing aftershocks. Unfortunately during the afternoon guests in these open spaces also had to deal with rain showers. They nevertheless had to stay in place as the evacuation of the parks was stopped due to the complete shutdown of the area’s rail system and closure of most if not all roads. In particular the main rail line between Tokyo and TDR, the Keiyo Line, has been damaged as relayed by Roger55 on MiceChat. This means a large number of guests have to remain on property OVERNIGHT – even so buses to some hotels in the area have been operating and transported guests to these.

“rezaikram” who is one of the guests still inside the park posts photos on his account at yfrog. One of his photos from inside the resort shows how guests were still seated on the ground inside Tomorrowland despite dusk having set in. According to an explanation posted with the photo by “rezaikram”: “they gave us disposable heaters, plastic bags and rain coats to keep us warm“. In the meantime night has fallen and he has confirmed (and posted an according photo): “we are not allowed to leave TDL.have to spend a night transportation outside“.

According to the coverage on The Disney Blog (an unofficial blog) the resort’s management has officially confirmed that the resort’s theme parks will remain closed on Saturday and Sunday in the aftermath of the devastating catastrophe. However, they also confirmed the great news that there were no injuries to report from within the resort in connection with the earthquake.

MiceAge received word from one of its readers who is among the stranded as well. Al Lutz posted it originally on the site’s main page but moved it to the site’s boards in the meantime. The reader not only describes their situation but also praises the dedication of the resort’s cast members: “The Cast made us all feel safe. Even after working who knows how many hours and worrying about their own friends and family, they are there for us. After passing out plenty of drinks, plastic bags (as ponchos), blankets and towels, and hand and foot warmers, the Cast were still so friendly and helpful“.

Considering the photo material that had become available only very limited damage was to be expected at the resort despite Alan Littaye’s earlier unconfirmed report about “lots of structural damage” (see above). This seems to be confirmed by the latest word received by Al Lutz who posted: “upon initial inspection there appears to be only light damage to park structures and facilities“.

As The Disney Blog (an unofficial blog) reports in its updated coverage, in the meantime guests have been allowed to leave the resort as well – even so many staid on considering that many of them must be considered to be stranded at the Tokyo Disney Resort (due to the shut-off of the train system). As dawn has broken on the first day after the massive earthquake guests who spent the night inside the resort’s two theme parks are now being served breakfast by the cast members of the resort.

David Landsel, a travel editor of the New York Post, happens to be among those stranded in the resort – and tweets about his experience (thanks to Inside the Magic for identifying this source and to The Disney Blog for spreading it) on his Twitter account – regarding the breakfast he lets us know: “first hot meal for everyone in twelve hours. Pork buns and veg soup.”

Inside the Magic also created a selection of photos tweeted by various sources from inside the Tokyo Disney Resort on Friday plus some screen shots of tv coverage. BEsides many photos of the guests waiting outside there is also a couple of shots of the damages. In addition to the damage as visible on the photos linked above there is also a couple of additional shots that show damage to the ground outside of the gates of Tokyo Disneyland as well as some damage to the walkways right next to the beams holding up the platform of the Monorail station at Tokyo Disneyland. As expected the Monorail remains shut down at this time and the (limited) transportation made available to guests when they were allowed to leave the parks starting earlier in the night was buses.

In the meantime the Thomas Smith, the social media director for the Disney Parks, has issued an official statement on the official Disney Parks Blog confirming that there are only reports of “minor injuries and minimal property damage at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea“. He also confirms that both parks will remain closed on Saturday (as reported earlier on various sites, including in this coverage), explaining: “The safety of our guests and cast members is always our first concern so both parks will remain closed on Saturday to allow for a thorough inspection of our attractions and facilities.

While the Tokyo Disney Resort is the most severly impacted Disney venture there was also limited impact respectively limited concern among fans regarding other Disney projects. In this regard it is worth noting that the Disney Wonder will remain on sea today, skipping the scheduled stop at the port of Cabo which had been closed. In this regard it has to be kept in mind that a tsunami wave has only a very limited height out on the open sea. It develops its infamous height only once it reaches the shallow waters in front of the shore, therefore keeping boats out in the deep, open sea is a common safety measure. Finally Thomas Smith was also able to confirm that  “Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, currently under construction in Ko Olina, Hawai’i, was not impacted” – as had been expected since Hawai’i reported only a rather small tsunami wave and no major damages when it hit earlier.

In the meantime aftershocks keep jolting the ground throughout north eastern Japan including the Tokyo area on day one after the massive earthquake. So far at least one major tremor measuring 6.7 on the Richter scala has been reported from the Nagano prefecture in Central Japan shortly after 3 am on Saturday – but experts have not yet determined whether this was an aftershock or an unrelated earthquake. Furthermore complicating the situation is the fact that tsunami’s of varying strengths continue washing ashore along the northeastern coast. According to current reports by the Japanese tv station NHK this includes the Tokyo area. Therefore, a tsunami warning is still in place. The current on-going tsunami’s may reach heights of up to ten meter once again according to that warning, but most are limited to swellings of the sea level in 30 to 40 minute intervals according NHK.

Coverage by traditional media is concentrating now on what could be an escalating situation at two of Japan’s nuclear plants at Fukushima. First reports mention that radiation may have leaked from plant one at Fukushima. Problems with the cooling of that plant’s nuclear core as well as of the nuclear cores of two more plants at Fukushima continue. In addition a nuclear emergency situation alert has now been issued for a second of these three plants – plant number two, about 10 kilometer south of plant one. The evacuation zone around plant one has been expanded from 3 kilometer to a 10 kilometer radius before the operating company started releasing air from the plant at 9.00 am local time to help reduce pressure in plant one. In addition a second evacuation zone with a 3 kilometer radius around plant two has been set up now as well.

At this time no new damages or impacts are reported from Tokyo Disney Resort and limited transportation is operated once again allowing the guests to leave the resort slowly. While CNN reports that parts(!) of the train system in the Tokyo area should return to limited operations on Saturday (after the complete standstill lasted till late last night) there is no word on the Keiyo Line connecting the resort to Tokyo. However, it does not seem to be operational at this time as David Landsel only minutes ago tweeted that he only now is leaving the resort as he has learned that a subway line about 20 minutes away from the resort is operational. As the Keiyo Line is stopping right at the resort, it could be assumed he is referring to a different line.

Earlier user Boy33 relayed further word from Steve Davison on Twitter that now all rehearsals for “Fantasmic!” at Tokyo DisneySea have been canceled for several days but – for some good news – that there is no damage to the hotel.

UPDATE 6 – including video of the earthquake taken inside both parks of the resort:
[this update has been moved to our follow up coverage post and was further expanded – please read on at this link!]

Certainly the prayers and best wishes of all of us here at the Mousekingdom Blog  go out to everyone impacted by the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan as well as on the pacific islands that have been hit by the tsunami as well in the meantime. Please post in the comments and / or contact us if you have any further news regarding the developing situation in TDR!

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