Pedestrians cross a road in front of darkened electronics shops at night in the Akihabara shopping district of Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Tokyo Tower and its adorning 176 floodlights have illuminated the world's richest city from sundown to midnight for the past 22 years. Tonight, the 1,093- foot beacon will go dark for a fifth day. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Tokyo: Areas of Tokyo usually packed with office workers crammed into sushi restaurants and noodle shops were eerily quiet. Many schools were closed. Companies allowed workers to stay home. Long queues formed at airports.

As Japanese authorities struggled to avert disaster at an earthquake-battered nuclear complex 240km to the north, parts of Tokyo resembled a ghost town.

Many stocked up on food and stayed indoors or simply left, transforming one of the world's biggest and densely populated cities into a shell of its usual self.

"Look, it's like Sunday —no cars in town," said Kazushi Arisawa, a 62-year-old taxi driver as he waited for more than an hour outside an office tower where he usually finds customers within minutes.

"I can't make money today."

Negligible radiation

Radiation in Tokyo has been negligible, briefly touching three times the normal rate on Tuesday, smaller than a dental X-ray. Yesterday, winds over the Fukushima nuclear-power plant gusted out to sea, keeping levels close to normal.

But that does little to allay public anxiety about an ailing 40-year-old nuclear complex with three reactors in partial meltdown and a fourth with spent atomic fuel exposed to the atmosphere after last Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

"Radiation moves faster than we do," said Steven Swanson, a 43-year-old American who moved to Tokyo in December with his Japanese wife to help with her family business.He is staying indoors but is tempted to leave. "It's scary. It's a triple threat with the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear radiation leaks. It makes you wonder what's next."

A number of major events have been cancelled, including the World Figure Skating Championships, Japan Fashion Week and the Tokyo International Anime Fair whose organisers cited "extreme circumstances".

Some foreign bankers, flush with money, are fleeing fast, some on private jets. BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered and Morgan Stanley were among banks whose staff have left since Friday, according to industry sources.

Thousands of people have inundated private jet companies with requests for evacuation flights, sending prices surging.

"I got a request yesterday to fly 14 people from Tokyo to Hong Kong... they did not care about price," said Jackie Wu, chief operations officer at Hong Kong Jet, a newly established private jet subsidiary of China's HNA Group. A chartered plane from Tokyo to Australia, one way, was $265,000 (Dh973,266), 20 per cent higher than usual, he said. Mike Walsh, chief of Asia Jet, said they had run three evacuation flights to Hong Kong from Tokyo.