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"With the phone and train lines down, taxis stopped, and millions of people stuck in the Tokyo shopping district scared, with no access to television, hundreds of people were swarming into Apple stores," an unnamed Apple Store manager in Japan wrote in an email to Digg founder Kevin Rose.
As the fifth largest earthquake in recorded history, the "Great Tohoku Earthquake," which reached a magnitude of 9.0 on the moment magnitude scale, and subsequent tsunami have caused untold damage and loss of life since striking off the coast of Japan last Friday.
The Apple Store manager compared the role of the company's retail stores during the aftermath to that of "electronics shops that have TVs in the display windows" in disaster movies.
"Staff brought out surge protectors and extension cords with 10s of iOS device adapters so people could charge their phones & pads and contact their loved ones," the manager wrote, noting that the Apple retail stores are some of the only locations to offer free Wi-Fi in Japan. "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."
In a second e-mail, the correspondent explained how Apple Stores also became a refuge for Apple employees and their families. With transportation at a standstill and numerous workers stranded in downtown Tokyo, "Apple told all of their staff - Retail AND Corporate - that they could go sleep at the Apple stores," the manager said. The company also reportedly offered to reimburse any costs incurred by employees trying to get home.
Apple is accepting Red Cross donations through iTunes for relief work in Japan, while AT&T is offering free calls and texts to Japan through the end of March.
Japan has become an important market for Apple, as the company's products, especially the iPhone and iPad, have gained popularity. Last year, one research firm reported that Apple had taken roughly 72 percent of total smartphone sales in the country. The iPad was also well-received when it launched there last May.
Apple currently operates 7 retail stores in the country. Revenue from Japan comprised 5.4 percent of Apple's overall revenue in the first quarter of fiscal 2011.
According to analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, the earthquake could adversely affect Apple's income by as much as $202 million in the March quarter. In a worst case scenario, which assumes no sales in Japan for the first half of the June quarter, Munster sees a negative impact of 2.7 percent, or $563 million.