Earthquake strands thousands at Tokyo Disney theme parks

March 11, 2011, 8:16 AM · On the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck Japan on Friday, a 8.9 "great" quake that spawned a tsunami that's now traveling across the Pacific.

The tsunami has killed hundreds in Japan according to the BBC, and is now arriving in Hawaii. It's expected to hit the U.S. west coast around 11 am local time this morning.

Back in Japan, the quake hit during the day while thousands of visitors were inside the Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea theme parks. There are reports of damage and flooding inside both parks (*which turned out to be minimal), though I've not yet heard of any serious injuries (*there weren't any inside the parks). Visitors were kept in the parks while Disney assessed damage and local authorities ensured it would be safe to leave.

If you have any reports on the situation in Japan, please post to the comments.

Update, 11am: I was e-mailed a photo of people waiting outside Pirates:

Tokyo Disneyland, after the quake

Apparently, Disney kept everyone out of the park's buildings immediately after the quake, until it could determine if they were safe. Reports from Twitter say that people were generally patient and understanding, though it turned quite cold into the evening.

Thousands of visitors remain in the parks overnight, due to flooding in the parking lots and transit systems being down in the Tokyo area, leaving visitors with no place to go. The parks themselves are providing food and some shelter to those stranded.

The parks will be closed to new visitors on Saturday, obviously, as the priority remains safely getting out those within. After that, park officials will make damage assessments on Saturday and worth with local transit authorities to decide if the park will open on Sunday, or later.

Finally, I get that the official Disney Parks Blog is promotional. But Disney's failure to acknowledge on the blog what's happening in its Japanese parks is conspicuous. Disney's missing an opportunity to communicate with its guests and fans around the world here.

Update 2, 4pm: Disney finally issued a public statement, at 2:23 pm PT.

And here's a guest's video of the earthquake, which happened as people were waiting for the daily parade. A broadcast safety spiel follows the quake:

I'm impressed by how swiftly the cast members struck the parade route stanchions and ropes, allowing for more movement of people into the Main Street area, in anticipation of people evacuating buildings in the park. And how nobody in the crowd panicked. From all accounts I've read, the Tokyo Disney cast excelled in this situation.

Update 3, 8pm: The following report was sent to me by one of my fellow former Magic Kingdom cast members, who works at the Michigan TV station that interviewed Tokyo Disney announcer Kurt Common about the earthquake:

Update 4, March 12: Tokyo Disney's operating calendar is showing no opening or closing times for the next 9 days, with the park reopening on Tuesday, March 22.

From what I've seen and heard of the situation inside the park, I suspect the closure is not so much a reflection of damage within the parks (which appears to be minimal, at worst), but of the uncertain travel and transport situation around the region. There's simply no point in drawing people into a recovering area at this time. Better to close the parks until the region is stabilized and fully functioning again.

Update, March 14: Tokyo Disney has closed all its facilities indefinitely, due to power and blackout issues across the area.

Replies (9)

March 11, 2011 at 9:17 AM · has a twitter feed from someone who's been stuck inside the park. They've been posting random pictures and info from inside the parks before their phone died, they can been seen from the link below.

Also for current tweets and various pictures:

An additional piece with inside pictures and various updates:

March 11, 2011 at 1:14 PM · I imagine Tokyo Disneysea is especially flooded, seeing as it's literally alongside Tokyo Bay which would have had quite a few major waves this morning. I guess nobody in the park was experiencing a major disaster though since we would have heard it on the news. Most of all though, I feel sorry for the guests who pay premium prices to stay in Hotel MiraCosta inside Disneysea park. As they are eating their meals in the forseeable future, all they will see out of the lounge windows are stranded tourists standing in the rain packed liked sardines in a crushed tin box.
March 11, 2011 at 1:49 PM · FWIW, the flooding in the parking areas is not the result of the tsunami, but of the ground itself essentially liquefying during the quake, allowing groundwater to saturate the pulverized earth on parts of the landfill upon which the resort was built.

Also, tweets from guests inside the park have been quite complimentary of the park's staff, given what must be extremely trying circumstances. Which makes it all the more weird that Disney's saying nothing directly to its fans about the situation. Yes, I know that the parks are under the operation of Oriental Land, and not Disney itself, but it's Disney's brand name that's out there.

March 11, 2011 at 1:56 PM · Could not agree more. This is a real missed opportunity for Disney.
March 11, 2011 at 3:42 PM · It would appear that someone at Disney might have been paying attention. They're now addressing the issue on their blog.
March 11, 2011 at 9:06 PM · I wish the best for all the Japanese and the guests at Tokyo Disneyland.
March 13, 2011 at 9:17 AM · Kudos to the Tokyo Disney management and CMs for a calm, professional reaction to a major catastrophe.

But I question using the computer-generated voice for the English voice announcement -- it gives the whole scenario a creepy, "Westworld" feel...
Oops. Sorry, Kurt -- Great impression of "Microsoft Bob."

March 13, 2011 at 8:00 PM · What happened at the universal studios japan? Can't find something about them.
March 16, 2011 at 4:08 PM · Universal Studios Japan is located in Osaka, more than 300 miles west and a bit to the south of Tokyo. Osaka Bay was sheltered from the brunt of the tsunami and Osaka was located far enough away from the epicenter that it should have escaped major damage.

I haven't heard any reports from USJ. Its website reports that the park is open, and the southern part of the country appears to be in much better shape than the area around Tokyo and to the north.

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