Bicycles play a role following Japan earthquake and tsunami; Where to donate and find help

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Many of us are riveted to the TV and radio as the tragedy that struck Japan last night unfolds today. My heart goes out to the victims and those waiting to hear from friends and family in that country. [See where to donate, below]

One of the repercussions of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan is the widespread breakdown of the transportation system.

Officials shut down Tokyo's subway system and elevated highways as the danger of aftershocks continues. The result is gridlock on roads leaving the city, prompting many to rely on bicycles as the only way to get home.

A Tokyo-based blogger for an ice-skater fan page took this picture (at left) of people lined up to buy bicycles at a local shop.

“Strong sales”

The blogger at reported at his Twitter feed that bicycle shops were “showing strong sales tonight as stranded commuters look for an alternative way home.”

Also, a friend told him that a bicycle shop in the Omotesando area of Tokyo had sold all of its bikes, “including expensive ones that run 300k yen” (about $3,600).

Folks in Tokyo buying bicycles to go home because the all tra... on Twitpic

Reporters filing eyewitness accounts for the Wall Street Journal wrote about the scene at bike shops:

“Harried office workers lined up to buy bicycles at a discount retailer in the Shinbashi district of central Tokyo. Within an hour after the quake, the store sold out its entire stock of 30-40 collapsible and compact bicycles. Store employees ripped open heavy cardboard boxes and quickly assembled bikes for waiting customers waving receipts for their purchases in front of the shop….

” 'I have a child waiting for me at home and the trains are down,' said Mio Kawai, 36, an office worker who paid 25,000 yen ($304) for one of the bikes. “It's a lot of money for a bike, but there's no other way home' in the city of Kawasaki, about 19 kilometers (11 miles) from downtown Tokyo, she said.”

Tokyo’s subway system carries about 8 million riders a day. It was shut down after the earthquake, leaving commuters stranded in town to wait hours for taxis or search for somewhere to spend the night, news sources report.

Bicycles in disasters

Bicycles can be an especially useful form of transportation after a disaster, a fact emphasized in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

You might remember that World Bicycle Relief, created by SRAM Corporation and Trek Bicycles, provided 24,400 bicycles to residents of Sri Lanka after the tsunami leveled parts of that country. Those bicycles remained in use for years, according to the charity.

Two years after the bikes were distributed, 88% were still in use and had saved households 30% of annual income for transportation. They also enabled families to get back on their feet for employment and education.

BikeBiz reports that Shimano, Specialized, Schwinn and Univega are among the bike manufacturers with offices in Japan. Bridgestone Cycle Co. also has three plants in Japan.

Cyclelicious and Japan Times also write about the use of bicycles after the earthquake.

Red Cross, donations & locating family

The Red Cross has posted information about the earthquake at its website. You can donate to disaster relief at its website, or text “Red Cross” to 90999. If you text in, $10 will be automatically charged to your phone bill as a donation. Also, there's the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund at Global Giving.

If you're trying to reach someone in Japan, try the Google Person Finder site is available at: .

Also the International and Japanese Red Cross has set up a Family Links webpage to help find reunite families.

The disaster most heavily affects the prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, Tochigi and Ibaraki.

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