Japanese Apple Stores pitch in after earthquake

As the people of Japan struggled to comprehend the enormity of the natural disaster that struck last Friday, at least one Apple Store reportedly threw its doors open in an effort to help the public.

AppleInsider
spotted a post on the blog of Digg founder Kevin Rose, in which an unnamed Apple Store manager and friend of Mr Rose detailed the terror of being caught in the 9 magnitude quake and its aftermath.

While he does not specify which store he works at, the manager's emails to Mr Rose suggest he works at a store near the centre of Tokyo, which while several hundred kilometres from the epicentre of the quake, was still badly shaken.

''The earthquake hit while I was working on the first floor of one of their stores.  As the entire building swayed, the staff calmly led people from the top 5 floors down to the first floor, and under the ridiculously strong wooden tables that hold up the display computers,'' he said.

Despite more than 115 aftershocks, the store remained open, because with lines of communication cut and public transport at a standstill those stuck in the Tokyo shopping district, one of the most popular tourist spots in the world, turned to one of the only places with free and functioning WiFi and wired internet access - the Apple Store.

''With no access to television, hundreds of people were swarming into Apple stores to watch the news on USTREAM and contact their families via Twitter, Facebook, and email.  The young did it on their mobile devices, while the old clustered around the macs. There were even some Android users there. (There are almost no free wifi spots in Japan besides Apple stores, so even Android users often come to the stores.)'' the manager explained.

Staff, many of whom would have been concerned for the welfare of their own friends and family, did what they could to support those who came into the store, supplying surge protectors, extension cords and power adapters so people could charge their iPhones and iPads.

''Even after we finally had to close 10pm, crowds of people huddled in front of our stores to use the wifi into the night, as it was still the only way to get access to the outside world,'' he said.

After signing off the first email as a ''Great Tohoku Earthquake Survivor 2011'', the manager penned a second message to Mr Rose, detailing the lengths Apple upper management went to in order to keep their staff safe and secure during the disaster.

With almost every way out of Tokyo cut off and continuing aftershocks rendering the skyscraper headquarters of Apple's corporate team inaccessible, senior store managers told staff they were welcome to sleep at their stores. Managers had also stocked up on food and drinks, making Apple Stores one of the best places to shelter from temperatures nearing zero degrees celsius. Family members of staff were also told they could stay at stores.

And in a final gesture of kindness, Apple reportedly told staff that if they wished to travel home, the company would foot the bill for any food, drink, or transportation fees that that person incurred on the way.

''If, on their way home the staff member realized they couldn't make it, but they found an open hotel, Apple would pay for it.  Since many people lived 2-3 hours away, this ended up meaning 11 hour walks home, $300 taxi fares, and $800 hotel rooms (only the luxury hotels had vacancies).  Executives from Cupertino and London Facetimed with us, letting us know not to worry, they supported us, and that they would write off on it all,'' he said.

While tech sites often hear of the secretive and at times cult-like culture within Apple, this is one situation where a tech company has gone above and beyond to support not only their employees but the general public in a time of dire need. Few would question the much-deserved praise that will head Apple's way for their actions in this case.

Apple's Sendai Ichibancho store remains closed, with the Sendai region among the worst hit by both the earthquake and massive tsunami that followed.

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